What’s immediately apparent about Beast Beast, the feature debut from writer/director Danny Madden, is that it’s a film with a lot of heart. Madden is a filmmaker with a clear grasp of the craft, and as the film moves closer and closer to its shocking finale, this is a fact that is more than apparent.
Beast Beast had its debut way back in Sundance 2020, where it was met with mixed-positive reviews though not much in the way of buzz outside the festival. This was never going to be the kind of film that breaks through to mainstream audiences, however. This is a small film, intended for small audiences; for the right audiences, Madden has crafted a powerful, resonant musing on the realities of growing up in a social media driven world, where clout means everything and consequences are rarely thought about.
While not without flaw, thanks to Madden, cinematographer Kristian Zuniga, and some profound performances from its young stars, Beast Beast still manages to be poignant without being preachy and effective without resorting to over-manipulation.
Beast Beast follows the lives of three young adults, theater kid Krista (Shirley Chen), the new-to-school skater Nito (Jose Angeles), and wannabe YouTuber weapons expert Adam (Will Madden). Using this trio, the film explores the daily realities of Gen Z kids as they navigate the stresses of school, the pressing need for social media clout, and the ever present tension of peer pressure. Slowly, the three stories intertwine with tragic results that will change their lives forever.
Madden’s biggest success might be his ability to write characters that are both interesting and sympathetic. All three of his mains, each of them wildly different in terms of teenage archetypes, are likeable in their own ways, even if they’re doing things we might otherwise disapprove of. It’s a testament to his skill as a writer that all three are imbued with such humanity and his talent is self-evident.
He’s helped, of course, by the performances of his three leads. Chen, especially, who gained no small amount of praise following the film’s Sundance debut, is wonderful as Krista. So, too, with Madden (the director’s brother), who brings a heartbreaking relatability to Adam, even if his arc is somewhat telegraphed.
None of Beast Beast’s main characters are strictly good or bad; in terms of narrative, there’s no real antagonist or protagonist. Instead, Madden has crafted a narrative when which all three are victims of choices, even those that might feel harmless or in good fun. That’s a reality teens contend with daily, and Madden manages to capture that well. All three of these characters make mistakes, and all three suffer consequences of their own decisions.
It’s easy to project ideals onto this movie that aren’t there, however. While certainly the film does bring up thought provoking questions on gun violence and the blurred lines that can lead some kids into lawbreaking, Madden never talks down to the audience and the film never seems interested in making us feel one way or another on any issue. Instead, it simply presents us with a character study that shows us how easily the wrong people can cross each other’s pass.
With Beast Beast, Madden makes his mark as a director of capability and talent. Though the film is never able to transcend itself to become something bigger or better than what it is, Madden feels comfortable with his status and the status of his film. The result is a story that is moving and heartbreaking, if not exactly memorable. It still makes for a powerful feature debut and marks the director as one to watch.
Beast Beast is now playing in select theaters.