Film Review: Beats

Beats is a coming-of-age story involving two best friends about to have the summer of their lives.  Directed by Brian Welsh (Black Mirror) and written by Kieran Hurley from his play of the same name, the film follows Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) as they prepare to attend one final night out together.  It could also be the final illegal rave; it’s 1994 and the Criminal Justice Bill wants to place restrictions on Scotland’s rave culture and free party movement.  At home, Johnno’s mum is in a relationship with local copper PC Robert (Brian Ferguson), about to move to a new house in a promising new town, much to Johnno’s disappointment.  Spanner, meanwhile, his wayward best mate with a psycho drug-dealing brother Fido (Neil Leiper), is stuck in poverty with little chance of escape so naturally doesn’t want him to go.  When Spanner gets word of a massive party about to go down, he decides that him and Johnno have to be there.  The party becomes a symbol of his freedom, their freedom, friendship, rebellion and escape.  DJ and party starter D-Man (Ross Mann) leads Johnno, Spanner and their group of raver friends to the secret location.  A series of shots follow that captures the rave so authentically and energetically that you genuinely feel part of the scene.

It’s no surprise then to learn that director Brian Welsh organised a real old school rave with 1500 ‘mad-for-it’ dancers and a handful of Scottish techno acts; “We had this inspired decision of saying the film crew aren’t the main event, the party is the main event.  We needed to work around it in order to get that intensity in the room”.  The decision pays off as you become immersed in the rave yourself just watching onscreen.  The trippy visuals, the soundtrack (curated by Scottish club legend JD Twitch), the brilliantly acted dance scenes – all come together to produce one of the most effective party scenes in British cinema.

Beats is shot entirely in black and white and does bare a resemblance in tone and pace to films like La Haine and Rumble Fish, both references points for the film.  There is a similarity to iconic films such as Trainspotting and Human Traffic but only in terms of being an energetic film with music, drugs and 90s content.  Beats is very much its own film with its own humour and style.

I love the close relationship between Johnno and Spanner, young male friendship isn’t often shown with this kind of unashamed raw vulnerability and I applaud it for that.   There are actually many layers to this film – the rave movement, post-industrial Scotland, poverty, crime, drugs, domestic abuse, and it absolutely captures all of these themes in a sensitive and subtle way whilst still delivering the core of the story; the boys’ friendship and one bangin’ night.  Produced by Camilla Bray (Sixteen Films) and Steven Soderbergh, Beats is out now on DVD and VOD.

Watch BEATS: Digital / DVD

BEATS soundtrack

Review by Jo Overfield

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