Haunting percussion and fierce chants of children introduce the audience to “Beast Beast,” setting the tone for the film; the initial burst of adrenaline and subsequent sense of tension remains steady throughout the movie as the audience has no option but to sit on the edge of their seat, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The 2020 Sundance Pick follows the intertwined lives of three different teenagers, Adam, Krista and Nito, in a small town in the South. There is no doubt that “Beast Beast” is an independent feature — it has all the benefits of specificity and attention to detail, and yet features many of the same generic tropes often found in this genre of coming-of-age storytelling. The handheld camera and cinematography feel raw and real, following the three leads earnestly to capture their most vulnerable moments.
Aided by the documentary style shooting, the film catches Adam, Krista and Nito in their moments of everyday performance; the camera is spontaneous and somehow constantly in motion as it follows its leads in their drama rehearsals, skateboarding sessions or even shoplifting sprees. There are some moments that feel inexplicably real: the simplicity of a spontaneous kiss or the thrill of skateboarding down a slope.
The story’s focus on theater, dance and activity as a means of expressions feels particularly relevant — the audience is shown the lingering glimpses of characters before they step on stage or start recording their cameras. It’s almost as if “Beast Beast” is drawing parallels between the performance that we label as such and the performance of our everyday lives, one that doesn’t necessarily require a camera or stage.
“Beast Beast” is also filled with noise: The almost anxiety-inducing drums and constant throbbing sounds are uncomplicated, raw. There are no layers or complex mixing — its simplicity feels more effective in allowing the focus to remain on the shot, the crescendoing beats aiding the tension and build up of suspense.
Perhaps where “Beast Beast” shines is its unique depiction of the internet-raised generation. According to the U.S. Loneliness Index, 79% of Generation Z feels lonely, becoming the loneliest generation recorded to date. The film seems to brilliantly — and surprisingly, honestly — capture what it feels like to come of age in a world that is instantly connected.
The lingo doesn’t feel stilted and the texts don’t read funny: Instead, filmmaker Danny Madden validly catches his characters in prolonged moments of solitude. In “Beast Beast,” the internet is a supporting character, a vital mode of communication and method of introduction to its lead characters. Photos and videos online feel like a currency, and the way teenagers are involved in the documentation of their own lives has much to do with the self-performance that Madden seems to constantly hint at throughout the film.
The film’s resolution is admittedly murky. The catharsis following the climactic event is evident, yet it feels difficult to place a finger on where the film stands in treating such a politically charged topic. While it may handle the rest of its content with a clinical observation, it feels necessary that the film at least takes some manner of moral stand on its lead character Adam, as well as the technologies that enable or dis-enable him.
What “Beast Beast” accurately accomplishes is the thrill of the sheer stupidities that comes with growing up. Though the film tends to lean toward cliches, it takes a very interesting set up and arrives at a more classic, thrilling destination.