Danny Madden’s intriguing feature debut has a star-making turn from Shirley Chen but fails to cohere in any truly meaningful way
Georgia’s suburbia is a peaceful masquerade for a far uglier reality in Danny Madden’s Beast Beast, adapted from his award-winning short Krista. Following the intersecting lives of three young adults through the lens of a coming-of-age film, it offers an effective, intriguing and anti-romantic look at America’s youth, though perhaps suffers from a lack of genuine depth.
With a focus on Gen Z, who have come of age in an era of omnipresent gun violence, Beast Beast’s narrative threads appear more tangled than interwoven. Adam (Will Madden) and his obsession with firearms underscore the film with a lurking insidiousness. From the moment he turns to camera, declaring, “It’s a rule of mine not to fire when you’re in an emotional state,” it's easy to predict how this will all end.
More interesting are the narratives of Adam’s neighbour Krista (Shirley Chen), a contemporary performance student, and new kid in town Nito (Jose Angeles). A troubled home life drives Nito into the arms of a crew of misfits, who skateboard and trespass in their spare time. Meanwhile, Krista has her heart set on the possibilities of an acting career. With lockers beside each other, Krista and Nito’s daily interactions blossom into a wholesome relationship to which Adam’s incel plotline is an abrupt contrast. His arc feels included merely to serve the moral commentary on gun violence instead of offering any valuable, nuanced contribution.
In dealing with themes of adolescence, Beast Beast effortlessly integrates phone footage and the filming of screens in a way that's cinematically reminiscent of 2018's Skate Kitchen, smartly avoiding animated texts or screen replicas. Throughout, the restless camerawork of Kristian Zuniga, pursuing the teens with agile movement and rarely settling into stillness, feels wonderfully in sync with the dynamic lives of our young characters.
In the end, real conflict arrives too late to adequately examine the individual turmoil, while the final act’s gear shift into explosive dramatics feels unearned. Holding it all together, though, is Chen’s refined performance. Authentic in a way that seems painfully real, she emerges as a star in the making, earnestly navigating the emotional turbulence of teenhood and marking her character as one deserving of an entire film of her own.
Embracing the coming-of-age aesthetic – classic red party cups, backwards snapbacks, things moving in slow-motion as Nito looks across the party and notices Krista – Beast Beast does manage to bring the high school drama into the modern age, though with three characters all vying for lead status, the film falls short of fully investing us in these stories of American adolescence.
Beast Beast is available on digital platforms from 30 April.Where to watch