Love pours from every frame of Brian Walsh’s latest feature: tried and tested friendships, nascent romances, and passion for the music and community that drives the underground raves of 1994 Scotland. His two central performances are key to the film’s heart. Christian Ortega captures Johnno’s teenage discomfort and growing boldness while Lorn Macdonald hides Spanner’s vulnerability behind impulsiveness and boundless enthusiasm. Their friendship – bickering and all – feels fully formed from the opening minutes, their connection already unshakeable against any obstacles from the onset of their latest adventure.
Shot mostly in black and white, the film finds the beauty in mundane actions and open spaces transformed through the young people inhabiting them. The camera sticks close to its protagonists, giving limited perspective outside their worldviews and neuroses. This sets up the film’s most clichéd and profound moment: cinema has no shortage of psychedelic montages, but Beats fully justifies its lengthy acid trip through the visceral euphoria of these young experiences. Amidst the danger of the rave and the uncertainty of tomorrow, one moment of release is beautifully, tenderly captured.
Beats is not always an easy watch; each protagonist deals with his own form of familial violence – from outright brutality to insidious abuses of power – and the party vibes do not obscure the danger of the rave scene’s more damaging elements. However, it steers away from cynicism or retribution, treating each rash decision with dignity. The bad is neither condoned nor celebrated, but the good is wholeheartedly rejoiced in.
Beats captures the ephemeral, ecstatic vibrancy of youth, friendship, and rapidly changing communities, where the future is so uncertain that only the moment counts. It is a joyous, unflinching look at lives in turmoil and gloriously all-consuming friendships. And while those bonds may not last forever, that love remains overpowering.
CAST: Christian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Gemma McElhinney
DIRECTOR: Brian Walsh
WRITERS: Kieran Hurley, Brian Walsh
SYNOPSIS: Scotland, 1994. The Criminal Justice bill outlawing raves has just passed, and two friends head out for one last party together.