Review by Sean Boelman
Executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, Brian Welsh’s Beats is a wonderful exploration of the meaning of self-expression through music. Thanks to a compelling script and an idiosyncratic vision, Welsh’s film may be the counterculture anthem that the youth of today so desperately need.
The movie follows a teenage boy and his troublemaker best friend in Scotland in 1994 as they set out to attend an illegal rave, hoping to find themselves and experience some excitement in their otherwise boring lives. Every generation has their teen movie that encourages youth to let go and be themselves — Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, Mean Girls — and now today’s group has Beats.
Even though the film is set in 1994, it feels surprisingly attuned to the issues and anxieties that are still faced today. It’s sad that a lot of these themes are still relevant — Welsh’s film shares a lot in common with Footloose in that it’s about a community getting together to have a secret party celebrating the music they love — but that also means that the story will be relatable and will likely even stand the test of time.
As is the case with most party movies, a majority of the time here is spent building up to the epic rave. The direction in which the film is heading is obvious, particularly if one is familiar with the aforementioned greats of the genre, but the emotional stakes that are established are sufficient enough for it to have an impact.
Admittedly, the characters are rather archetypal, but their arcs are quite compelling nevertheless. Thankfully, Welsh and co-writer Kieran Hurley don’t linger too much on the troublemaking friend angle, instead allowing the protagonist to come into his own independently. As such, the emotional beats of the movie feel much more natural.
Cristian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald have excellent chemistry together, and it is the audience’s ability to buy into this friendship that really sells the film. Macdonald in particular is extremely charming, bringing an added layer of humanity to the most problematically-written character in the script.
Welsh and cinematographer Benjamin Kracun shoot the film in beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and the visuals become even more ambitious when the characters actually get to the rave. And of course, since the movie is set in the world of electronic dance music, it has a very effective aural rhythm.
Beats is a brilliant coming-of-age tale, and if enough people get to see it, it may connect with audiences to become the next great cult classic. If there’s one indie movie that you take a risk on, let it be this.
Beats screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning June 26. A list of participating locations can be found here.