‘Beats’ (2019) reviewed

❉ Back to the old skool in Brian Welsh’s story of 90s rave culture.

Any Scottish film that now involves elements of dance music or the drugs scene is forever going to be compared to Trainspotting, a film that at two and a half decades on still stands proud as the yardstick for illicit, vicarious good/bad times onscreen. Making his big screen debut director Brian Welsh, no relation to Irvine as far as I know, delivers Beats – a film that directly evokes memories not only of Danny Boyle’s adaptation but of the rave scene that was so prevalent in Scotland in the early nineties.

Welsh’s adaptation of co-writer Kieran Hurley’s stage play details the exploits of teenage best friends Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) and Johnno (Cristian Ortega) as they try to make their way to an illegal rave on the outskirts of West Lothian. For both it is a personal journey, an escape from their home lives where Spanner lives in constant fear of his older, unhinged drug dealing brother and the changes on the horizon for Johnno due to an unwanted move out to the newly built suburbs which might as well be on the other side of the world for the two friends. Underlying these issues is a shared love of dance music, a constant driving force that moves them in ways both spiritually and physically.

For viewers of a certain age the premise is one that promises a nostalgic riff on an age when the mere act of dancing to rave music could be considered an act of political rebellion. Beats makes much of this fact by evoking the law was passed in 1994 that effectively banned people gathering together to listen to music that mainly consisted of repetitive beats. News footage plays on bulky, square televisions of protests against the act alongside a campaigning Tony Blair signalling the changes to come in the latter half of the decade that eventually lead us on to where we find ourselves today. Beats makes its points of youthful rebellion succinctly and successfully; if the youth here aren’t getting hounded by the police when just hanging out they also are at home. Johnno’s mother and her policeman boyfriend, played by Laura Fraser and Brian Ferguson, are well meaning but stifling and always disapproving of his best friend.

It is this aspect of the film that is the most successful, along with that of the crisp monochrome photography that captures a sense of long summer days and looking for something to fill them with. Less successful is the actual story itself which is further let down by several contributing factors. The script is underwritten and trades freely in clichés that have already been covered in more depth in a number of other coming of age films like Dazed And Confused and American Graffiti. Aside from the two protagonists the supporting cast struggle to flesh out their poorly sketched out characters. Gemma McElhinney is poorly served by her character Laura who inexplicably decides to become a love interest for Johnno. Further unconvincing portrayals are supplied by the least threatening drug dealer with violent tendencies in cinema history and then there is D-Man, possibly the most annoying DJ to ever be seen onscreen yet.

For a film that deals in illegal activities and substances Beats lacks sufficient edge. Those films mentioned earlier expertly captured those twists and turns that an epic night out can take; those sudden moments or wild characters that suddenly encroach into your space leaving things on a knife edge where the night could tip into disaster or glorious good times. In one hundred minutes Beats fails to capture what the clubbing episode of Spaced so expertly and humorously portrayed in under half an hour.

As nice as Beats looks it feels like a film that never got past the early drafting stage in its scripting process; one character’s sudden change of heart comes from out of nowhere so late on that it can supply no real reason or follow up for doing so. The dialogue is flat and repetitive and to a local ear the accents are all over the place. That the film closes with a scene that hints at a subtext it frankly is not deep enough to carry is only a reminder of what could have been concentrated on instead of its narrative that has already been seen before many, many times. The film’s postscript title cards detailing the characters lives afterwards hint at the directors and writers’ ambitions to show these characters lives but sadly it feels unearned and redundant.

Released by Altitude on May 17th, #BEATSfilm is written by Kieran Hurley and Brian Welsh and stars Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson, Rachel Jackson, Amy Manson, Gemma McElhinney and Ross Man. Cert 15. 101 minutes.

 Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was four.

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