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2020 Sundance Film Reviews

Sundance Review: Teenage abandon and tragedy set the stage for Danny Madden’s riveting ‘Beast Beast’

Beast Beast film poster.

When writer-director Danny Madden was asked about why he decided to create Beast Beast, a film based off of his SXSW winning short “Krista,” he mentioned how working with lead actress Shirley Chen largely drove the decision. “She has more life and bubbliness–I felt that was something missing from the short,” Madden replied. Truth be told, “Krista” is a great short film on its own. Raw, emotionally powerful, and captivating, the short film somehow manages to wrap up a harrowing storyline in the span of only a few minutes. But more importantly, it was the launching pad for newcomer Shirley Chen, who undoubtedly became one of the biggest driving factors for its success. In Beast Beast, Madden’s debut feature-length film, Chen once again shines–even in the presence of a remarkable ensemble cast and her brilliant co-stars Will Madden and Jose Angeles.

Shirley Chen and Courtney Dietz in Beast Beast. Photo by Kristian Zuniga.

Although “Krista” and Beast Beast both primarily focus on main character Krista’s (Shirley Chen) coming-of-age story, Beast Beast also explores the lives of recent high school graduate Adam (Will Madden) and Krista’s classmate Nito (Jose Angeles). All three characters lead vastly different lives that inevitably become intertwined with one another. There’s Krista, a bubbly and charismatic high school drama student who is preparing for her final project. There’s Adam, a gun-enthusiast YouTuber who is hoping to become the next viral sensation. And then there’s Nito, the new kid at school who soon finds himself hanging out with a gang of delinquents. Though each character (and by extension, actor) could easily lead a movie all on their own, Madden takes special care to circle the plot back around to Krista’s specific journey.

That’s the magic of what makes Beast Beast such an intriguing film. Even though the story is whole-heartedly focused on Krista’s reaction to the world around her, equal attention is given to all of the leading characters. While many films about teenagers are quick to distill each character down to one character trait (with, let’s face it, subpar actors), Beast Beast treats each of its lead characters with nuanced complexity. Beast Beast manages to balance the overarching drama with such well-rounded, sympathetic characters that when trouble begins to occur, your heart aches. Everything from the cheesy, realistic dialogue to the inner desires of each of the characters are stripped from any embellishments. The world is eerily close to reality in Beast Beast, which makes it that much more tragic.

Will Madden in Beast Beast as Adam. Photo by Kristian Zuniga.

Just like there was in “Krista,” Beast Beast builds, almost innocuously, a growing underlying fraught tension that stretches until it snaps out of nowhere in its near-final act. In a few seconds, the narrative of the story shockingly changes its course. From that critical point onwards, the film goes cold–all of the characters that you’ve followed along with from the beginning experience that coming-of-age in acceleration. The standout again is Chen, whose once bright Krista is now scarred and jaded–marking a seamless transition that highlights her chameleonic talents. Concluding the film in another clever and heart-pounding sequence, Beast Beast wholly stuns its audience and creates that chance for Madden to complete his story in the best way possible. 

Watching Beast Beast was akin to watching a car crash happen in slow motion: if the car was driven by your best friends. Even though Madden’s original story was already tuned to perfection, Beast Beast proves that with the right actors and lead actress similar stories can once again be given new life. Unabashed, persevering youthful energy in America lives on in Beast Beast–and in Krista–and Madden’s masterful take on it is something that we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Shirley Chen as Krista.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Film pages: IMDb | Sundance


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