Two teenage boys head to an illegal rave in Beats – and here’s our review.
Director: Brian Welsh
Cast: Lorn Macdonald, Cristian Ortega, Laura Fraser
Release date: 17th May
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek
A quote from the sleeve of The Prodigy’s seminal album Music For The Jilted Generation reads “We’re gonna keep the dance scene strong even if the world isn’t”. Printed as a direct rebuttal against the Conservative government’s enforcement of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which, along with the restriction of other considered ‘anti-social’ behaviours, attempted to crack down on rave culture – specifically on those attending gatherings “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”
This is the political climate within which Brian Welsh’s Beats is set. Located in a Scottish town during the cultural revolution that was led by the aspirational ‘New Labour’ and ‘Cool Britannia’, the film follows two teenage boys on their final night together at an illegal rave before their social standing tears them apart – or to put it more simply, before one of them is forced to move from their council estate to the suburbs. This is very much a love story between a mismatched pair of friends living for the moment; the nervous, wide-eyed, sensitive Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and his excitable, daring, wrong-side-of-the-tracks best friend Spanner (Lorn Macdonald). As Spanner delightfully puts it – Johnno is the “Scrappy-Doo to [his] Shaggy”.
Likely to be hailed as the ‘new Trainspotting’, Welsh, although clearly inspired by Boyle’s cult hit, strikes a tone that is more celebratory and less bleak. Other notable touchpoints include La Haine, Go and Human Traffic, combined with the British social realist elements audiences have come to expect from the films of Ken Loach and Shane Meadows.
It’s likely that Beats will be remembered for three primary reasons: the introduction of an exciting new talent in director Brian Welsh, the astonishing feature film debuts of the young leads Ortega and Macdonald, and the rave scene in which Benjamin Kracun’s stunning monochromatic cinematography gives way to hallucinogenic imagery from visual effects artist Weirdcore (a.k.a. Nicky Smith, whose previous work has included the creation of psychedelic graphics for Aphex Twin, Radiohead and Gwen Stefani), creating what is possibly the most authentic and immersive realisation of a party scene on screen in recent memory, elevated only by an incredible soundtrack featuring Leftfield, The Prodigy and Orbital.
The ending of the film may be bittersweet, but it will leave the audience with a big smile on their face, desperate to revisit the soundtrack that defined a generation.