Beats: A Review

Beats: A Review

The ‘rave’ movie, these days, feels like an almost extinct species. Back in the Nineties, there were films like Human Traffic and Sorted which tried, with varying degrees of success, to capture the absurd highs and crushing comedowns of club nights. So while Brian Welsh’s film Beats does, on some level, feel like a movie preserved from another era, there’s nothing retro about it. Fresh, funny, trippy and touching, it’s a black-and-white love letter to teenage rebellion that just about anyone can relate to.

Set in 1994, just as the Criminal Justice Bill outlawed unlicensed gatherings where kids dance to music with “repetitive beats”, it follows two Scottish lads heading towards one such illegal rave. Really, it’s a story of friendship, set to the backdrop of the rave culture. You could almost imagine Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) and Johnno (Cristian Ortega) being in a club scene in Trainspotting.

Speaking in thick accents, using rapid-fire vernacular, these two are the classic mismatched pals. Johnno is about to move away from the area – and his mother Alison (Laura Fraser) and policeman stepfather Rob (Brian Ferguson) entirely disapprove of Spanner and his older criminal brother Fido (Neil Leiper). Still, Spanner convinces Johnno to come out for one last blast – a rave to end them all. Together with a group of rag-tag friends, associates and wasters, they set out in search of those repetitive beats.

Adapted by Welsh and Kieran Hurley, from his own play, Beats channels the usual coming-of-rave scenes: sex, drugs, violence and road rage all play a part. But then Welsh hits us with a brilliantly unexpected sequence liable to see this film played on DVD at the end of a club night for years to come. Akin to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘stargate’ sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s a psychedelic scene that truly encapsulates a brain-altering state.

Beats doesn’t always hit the highs. The performances are hit-and-miss, with Ortega a little one-note as Johnno (he seems to have one default expression throughout). But the final shot, back in a childhood bedroom, sums up the heart that this film has. It is a film about the bonds of brotherhood. Cult status beckons.

Beats opens on 17 May. For more details, click here.

James Mottram