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Youthful self-expression is a joyride in a minefield in Danny Madden’s “Beast Beast,” an adrenalized, tone-shifting indie bringing the technology-fueled lives of three suburban souls of varying circumstances, hopes and concerns into pathways destined to converge.
Our introduction to Madden’s trio of fresh-faced, still-forming characters is through self-shot video of their passions. Outgoing, born-to-perform high-schooler Krista (Shirley Chen) is the energized center of her theater class, her phone camera always handy to help hone a monologue or movement piece. New classmate Nito (Jose Angeles) is a soft-spoken skateboarder with a friendly demeanor and uploads that show off his skills. Krista’s next-door neighbor is clean-cut and serious Adam (Will Madden, the director’s brother), at 24 still living at home, and a weapons enthusiast vlogger desperate for social media stardom with the guns-and-patriotism crowd (and therefore successful in his parents’ eyes).
What do we know of anybody from a fragment of life they’ve chosen to record for an imagined posterity? More urgently, what are our wishes for those whose need for fulfillment via attention isn’t always thoughtfully considered? Madden navigates this world of cultivated personality, pressure, alienation and exuberance with admirable sensitivity and stylish zeal, the camerawork and editing an appealing grab bag of naturalistic energy and subjective flashiness.
Then the cautionary tale messaging asserts itself more, and “Beast Beast” begins to feel only a few steps removed from after-school special territory. You won’t be surprised where it’s headed, in other words, even if the bluntness of the swerve toward violence still has the power to shock.
What saves the clunky closing act from being dilutive, however, are the performances: the untapped grit with which Chen shades Krista’s relentless pluck; Angeles’ mix of melancholy and charm; and Will Madden’s studious avoidance of caricature in portraying a type we’ve all doing our best to make sense of from too many headlines. For all the movie’s soupiness, we’re still left with a handful of memorable characters at a pivotal time in their emotional development, and for that, “Beast Beast” can boast a well-intentioned, caring integrity.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts April 30, Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; and Laemmle Virtual Cinema