British film “Beats”, which incidentally should not be confused with the 2019 American film of the same name, is often fascinating as a plain but vivid slice of adolescent life in Scotland, 1994. As closely following its two teenage heroes, the movie slowly lets us immersed in a rather bland and uneventful urban life of theirs, and we come to understand more of why they willingly get themselves swept and sucked into one big night event to remember.
At the beginning, the movie gives us a bit of period background knowledge. At that time, the British government was about to pass an act named the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, and this rather strict act was virtually going to ban outdoor rave parties in Britain. Not so surprisingly, many of those young and wild people in UK were not so amused at all, and they came to respond actively as holding many demonstrations and illegal rave parties around the country.
In case of our two adolescent heroes Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), they do not care that much about this legal change, but those loud pieces of music used in rave parties always excite them a lot as shown from their introduction scene. Despite their considerable background difference, both of them cannot resist any chance of fun and excitement to make them forget their mundane daily life for a while, and they look inseparable whenever they have a chance to spend time together.
However, Johnno recently comes to learn that there will be a big change in his life in one way or another. His mother has considered moving to a new and better neighborhood for her kids’ upbringing, and she may also marry her current boyfriend who is incidentally a local police officer. Due to the criminal background of Spanner’s older brother who has lived with him for years, both Johnno’s mother and her boyfriend do not regard Spanner that highly, but Johnno does not listen to their sincere words at all. Yes, it is quite apparent to us that Spanner is a lad without many good qualities, but Johnno’s sulky face is brightened a little whenever his friend comes to him, and we later get an amusing scene where Spanner has sneaked into Johnno’s room and then tries to hide when Johnno’s mother enters the room later.
We also get to know a bit about how unhappy Spanner has been in his life with his older brother, who frequently bullies Spanner just because he wants to remind his younger brother of who is the boss in their shabby apartment. Spanner clearly hates his older brother, but there is no possible future for him out there, and that is probably why he often clings to Johnno.
After it turns out that Johnno will leave their neighborhood along with his family sooner than expected, Spanner suggests that they should attend together an illegal rave party to be held in the upcoming evening, and, after hesitating a bit first, Johnno agree to go there along with his friend and several other young girls they happened to meet before. They surely need some money for going there, but Spanner already stole a considerable amount of money from where his older brother usually keeps his dirty money, and, along with those young girls, he and Johnno soon come to a trashy private place belonging to a local underground radio DJ who is supposed to take them to that rave party.
As Johnno and Spanner spend some time in that trashy private place, they turn out to be a lot more naïve than they try to appear in front of other persons around them. One of those young girls seems to be interested in Johnno, but he hesitates again as usual, and he and Spanner cannot help but become nervous when one rather obnoxious dude turns out to be one of the criminal associates of Spanner’s older brother.
The mood of the movie becomes a little tense when Spanner’s older brother eventually finds out what his younger brother committed, but the screenplay by director Brian Welsh and his co-writer Kieran Hurley, which is based on the novel of the same name written by Hurley, continues to roll its story and characters as leisurely as before. At one point later in the story, we get a small humorous scene where Johnno is forced to drive a car despite not having a driving license, and Welsh and his cinematographer Benjamin Kračun, who did a good job of capturing the drab ambience of the main characters’ daily life on rough and grainy black and white film, adjust the screen ratio deliberately for emphasizing Johnno’s frantic state of mind.
When our adolescent heroes eventually arrive at that rave party along with others, the movie pulls all the stops as required, and we are accordingly thrown into their very excited mental state, which is further fueled by a certain kind of psychedelic drug they took in advance. As they come to lose themselves more and more, we are naturally served with a series of hallucinogenic shots, and the night does seem to last forever for them and many others at the scene.
Of course, like many other acts of rebellion in fiction and real-life, Johnno and Spanner’s rebellion leads to a serious consequence, which affects not only them but also several others around them. While they are glad to confirm their friendship again to each other, they are still bound to be separated from each other sooner or later, and we are not so surprised by what is told to us during the following epilogue scene.
As a guy who has always preferred a quiet place for reading a book or watching a movie throughout his inconsequential life, I must say that what is presented in “Beats” feels rather distant and alien to me at times, but it is still a commendable film equipped with good period mood and unadorned natural performances, and I came to have some empathy for its two adolescent heroes in the end. Their fun time did not last that long, but they felt really alive at that time, didn’t they?