With the third mass shooting in almost as many months in Indianapolis, the opening on Friday, April 16th at Chicago’s Siskel Film Center of the Sundance sensation, BEAST BEAST, from filmmaking Danny Manning could not be more timely.
Under the guise of a teen coming-of-age film, the director/writer (and original score composer), Manning, goes right to the jugular in a virtual treatise on gun violence, teenaged crime and drug addiction.
The Svengali-like influence of the internet and social media is a silent protagonist that lurks in the underbrush throughout this kaleidoscopic view of modern teen life.
Near the start of the film, Madden takes us into the thick forest surrounding a tiny, average American middle class Georgia town and marches us right into the Heart of Darkness. Welcome to Wakefield, Georgia!
“It’d be hard to do a teenaged film in the modern day and not incorporate that element,” director Madden said in a recent Zoom interview, prior to release of the film Friday, April 16 at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. Visit siskelfilmcenter.org for information. The film opens everywhere On Demand and release on all Digital platforms May 4.
“ Part of the purpose of this film is to examine that and its influence on people and where it falls short,” Madden theorized.
In the film, Adam Maddigan is a 24 year old slacker who still lives with his parents. He spends his waking hours obsessed with the internet and absorbed in his fascination with high-powered weapons, which borders on being a festish. His immediate goal is to become an internet star by re-inventing himself in the persona of a video vigilante, firing off endless rounds of assault weapons at makeshift targets under the guise of fostering ‘protection.’
A casual family dinner conversation raises eyebrows as Adam explains how he’s ditching his job at the local hardware to devote full time to his pursuit of internet fame.
“It’s not just hunting,” he explains to his skeptical father, who wishes he would just forget all of this internet foolishness. “I always thought I was a good shot at hunting,” his father Lance (Chip Carriere) snipes at him. “But I never wanted to turn myself into a video star!” he scoffs.
“There’s money in it, with ads and stuff,” Adam retorts. “The more people that watch, the more money that comes in. Some people get really good sponsorships. The show is more like on the technical side-what kind of firearms do what, where you can get ‘em, how to modify ‘em. I review new products too. “ It all sounds so detached and clinical, but underneath it is an unhealthy obsession fueled by deep self-loathing.
Adam’s mother, Mabel (Cynthia Barrett), happens to be the manager of the local department store where Lena (Anissa Matlock, whom we’ll meet later) works. She complains of the employees vaping drugs in the bathroom during their breaks and threatens to fire one of them if she catches them again. Another breadcrumb on the trail leading to the denouement of BEAST BEAST.
With the skilled camera of Kristian Zuniga, whose work almost makes him a co-story teller, and tight editing by director Manning and his team of David Brundige, Peter Ohs and Additional Editing by Marie Walker, this is a film that quickly reveals the complexities and darker realities of modern teen life.
A lively and, at times, penetrating score with original music composed partly by the director, and sparked by tunes from G Yamazawa, Jordy and Kind Cousin, keeps the pace moving to its inexorable conclusion.
Filmmaker Madden follows the interconnected lives of three teens; Adam ( played by the director’s brother, Will Madden), Nito (Jose Angeles), and Krista Zhang(Shirley Chen) . Nito is the newbie at the local high school. He has a passion for daring skateboarding antics.
He also has an addiction to drugs and to the rush he gets from enacting petty crimes.
We also meet a group of misfits who provide the nucleus that binds all of these star-crossed and disparate characters together in a single cataclysmic and terrible act.
“I’m not just acting in front of the cameras,” Jose Angeles says of his character Nito. Jose admits that he too is a skateboarding enthusiast and finds self-expression in its daring moves. “That’s really me still. It’s happening in real time! I don’t think of it as me acting because Nito is really me.”
Shirley Chen, who plays pivotal character Krista, says she too brought her own experience to her character. “The base of Kristin’s character is who I am now, and who is was in high school. It’s everything that I love about theatre. Interacting with people. Having fun. Especially when you’re in high school, where there’s so much pressure to conform. It (theatre) provides a real space to escape. The thing about theatre is that it really opens you up. But in reality, there are things that happen in life that nothing can prepare you for. In terms of the underbelly of Krista, you look at someone like me and you don’t realize what’s underneath. Krista doesn’t realize she has this within herself until circumstance forces her to.”
“A lot of it involves performance,” Madden theorized. Much of the film takes place in a high school improvisational drama class. “When are you on. When are you off. When you’re young and growing up, it’s a confusing time so you try on different persona. The internet lets you do that. Its interesting that people go to the internet to find out about people that they’re interested in getting close to and watch their videos instead of spending time getting to know them.”
With echoes of Parkland, the vigilante violence of Jan 6th and the issue of Federal gun restrictions hanging in the air, this film could not be more relavent. It premieres in downtown Chicago Friday, April 16 at the Siskel Film Center and opens May 4 On Demand and Digital Release.
Like dropping breadcrumbs or breaking tree branches to retrace a trail in the forest, each character or prop that is introduced is a hint at something that will later be woven into the intricate fabric of the plot.
The film gets its name from a spirit-building rally cry of a high school experimental theatre group; ”BEAST BEAST, READY TO ACT!!” Average American south.
Director and screenplay writer Danny Madden in a film which lists Alec Baldwin as a producer, takes us on a journey into today’s complex, and often contradictory, teen world. We meet Adam (the director’s brother Will Madden, who has a fetishist’s romance with high-powered weapons.
Kristen Zhang (Shirley Chen) is deeply involved in the school’s experimental theatre group. The class mantra “Beast, Beast ready to act!’ provides the title for the film and stands for the raw, unbridled violence and rage that simmers beneath the surface.
Nito (Jose Angeles), also is a budding musical talent on the conga drums. The proximity of his locker to Krista’s and their mutual love for music, drama and dance proves the basis for their budding romance. Sadly, it is a love that cannot live.
Orbiting the periphery of their universe is a rag-tag group of misfits; Yoni (Daniel Rashid), Nito’s neighbor who draws naïve Nito into his webs of drugs, alcohol and crime, Jarrett (a young Drake-ish Stephen Ruffin), and Lena (Anissa Matlock. (“She’s 21!” Yoni tells Nito breathlessly, as they smoke dope from her vape on their way to robbing the local convenience store, with Nito used as the birddog). Lena proves to be the lynchpin that sets a tragic series of events into motion.
“The thesis of this film was to take an event like this and strip away the politics of it to reveal the humanity of it,. That was the point.” director Danny Madden revealed in a Zoom interview. The point is to take an event that has such profound rippling effects and to look at it from three vantage points rippling out of it.”
At the start of the film, Adam is videoing himself shooting makeshift targets in the woods with a dangerously novice friend, Nick (Jonathan Silva). The videos will go on his narcissistic social media site, Prime Shooter, which is gaining little traction among gun enthusiast as compared to his rival site, SHOOTIN’ THANGS, that gets more than two million hits a day for doing things like blowing up a loaded propane tank with an AR-15.
When internet trolls criticize his efforts to boost his cred with an obviously doctored video, the internet bullying drives him into an uncontrolled rage.
Social media plays a big role. Its a not-so-silent character in the film. “I really tried to show the force that social media has on the average teen’s life today. We just don’t meet anybody anymore, Instead, you go on social media and find their videos in order to get to know them,” said director Danny Madden In a Zoom interview.
With the exception of Adam, Krista is the film’s most complex character. In fact, there’s a throughline in their relationship that we witness through the internet. It is a thread the also ties them together in tragedy at the end.
The film opens Friday, April 16 at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center. Visit siskelfilmcenter.org for information. The film opens everywhere On Demand and release on all Digital platforms May 4.
Footnote: For the fifth time in eight weeks, flags have been flown at half-staff at the nation’s capital due to the Indianapolis FedEx mass shooting April 15. At the rate that things are happening, they may as well leave them there.