'Beast Beast': Film Review | Sundance 2020

Courtesy of Sundance
Young actors bring their light to a dark topic.
1/25/2020

In this somber drama from writer-director Danny Madden, the lives of three young people in a suburban Southern town intersect in unforeseen ways.

Part psychodrama, part tale of existential high-school angst, Beast Beast, from writer-director Danny Madden, follows three young people in a Southern suburb as their lives intersect. Based on a 2018 short film called Krista, the film is a commentary on the predominance of internet culture in the lives of today’s teenagers — and on the ways it breeds extreme isolation.

Krista (Shirley Chen) is a theater kid who sends out audition tapes and makes iPhone videos of herself performing. Adam (Will Madden) is her next-door neighbor who used to make those videos alongside Krista when they were younger, but in recent years has become a gun-rights fanatic with a YouTube channel. Nito (Jose Angeles) is the athletic skateboarder and new kid in town at Krista’s high school, and they eventually start dating.

All three young actors who play the leads deliver solid performances that make them effortless tour guides through their intersecting stories. Krista, Adam and Nito all have a distant relationship with their parents, and their parents mostly don’t understand them. Madden smartly illustrates this, for example, with a quick dinner scene in which Krista and her parents stare at each other silently as they eat. With only the sound of clinking plates, we get the isolation Krista feels at home and how acting is what helps her come alive.

The film has a lot going for it: The script, cinematography and sound sync together in a way that envelops you; and the teenage banter sounds authentic, with barely a line of dialogue that feels plucked from Tik-Tok absent a real knowledge of how actual teenagers communicate. Madden, who also scored the pic in addition to writing and directing it, uses the sound of Nito’s drumming and the instruments in Krista’s theater class as the basis of the score at the movie’s crucial moments. These are inventive callbacks that put us in deeper relationship with the characters. It’s touches like these that make the film imminently watchable, even as its final scenes feel like a surreal avalanche that the audience barely has time to process.

The last third of Beast Beast is indeed a sharp if not dizzying turn that you don’t see coming. After a violent event that touches all three leads in a tragic way, Krista is traumatized and struggling to cope. Meanwhile, Adam, Mr. Second Amendment, sees his YouTube channel views skyrocket and becomes a local hero in the eyes of many of his neighbors.

It’s at this point that you realize what the movie is ultimately aiming to be: a cautionary tale about guns in America. Madden wants us to feel what Americans across the country went through 417 times in 2019 in mass shootings that unleashed chaos and death, shattering our sense of safety. Madden wants us to feel Krista’s traumatic loss as if it were our own, forcing us to sit with the extreme pain and long-term consequences of gun violence.

Production companies: Vanishing Angle
Cast: Shirley Chen, Will Madden, Jose Angeles
Writer-director: Danny Madden
Producers: Matt Miller, Jim Cummings, Tara Ansley, Benjamin Wiessner
Executive producer: Alec Baldwin
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT)
Sales: XYZ Films


85 minutes