Cristian Ortega, Morn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson
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…goes beyond the social realism so prevalent in British film, to capture the immediacy and euphoria of 1990s rave culture.
A film about young people in a burgeoning music scene comes with the promise of a well-traversed thrill ride. The expected tropes and visual measures are relatively fixed: a coming-of-age tale, drug-induced psychedelic imagery, railing against authority, a craved brush with passion and sex. Beats executes these blaring notes with clarity and verve, and offers notable additions and insights.
For one, Brian Welsh’s Scottish film pivots on a specific law imposed by Westminster in 1994. The law forbids public gatherings across Britain “at which amplified music is played…wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” A policy so tragically comic as if belched from the very gut of British prudery.
Within this precise social moment, Welsh follows two Scottish teenage boys as they make a tortuous journey to an illegal rave in the woodlands. On the one hand is Johnno (Christian Ortega), a timid boy whose mum and stepdad aspire to middle class life, hoping to escape their dreary flat for a pristine estate. His best friend, Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), is the playful one desperate to alleviate his suffering at home in pursuit of an unforgettable night out.
It is remarkable how the two young actors carry the emotional weight of the film. One of Welsh’s many achievements is the intimacy of their friendship, that brief adolescent haze before the modulation of masculine adulthood. By the same token, this is no romanticised coming-of-age story. For Spanner, his home life is savagely marred by his abusive brother, and any closeness he feels is gleaned from his friendship with Johnno.
The film’s other major claim to individuality is its black and white format. Its effect was originally baffling, if only unexpected, but as each shot unfolds, there’s something so enticing as the sombre glaze of light and dark visualises the boys’ hedonism. On cinematography alone, Beats excels. Backed by Steven Soderbergh as executive producer, Welsh goes beyond the social realism so prevalent in British film, to capture the immediacy and euphoria of 1990s rave culture. Yet another reason for nineties nostalgia.