It’s cold and it’s raining and we’re in two minds about going out tonight. We’re booked in for an Unlimited screening of a film we know nothing about and it is really miserable out there. On the other hand, we reason, what if the film turns out to be great? We’ll be mad we missed it, won’t we? So, after some deliberation, out into the raging elements we go and boy, are we glad we do!
Beats is set in 1994. The TV screens are awash with images of Tony Blair and scenes of violent civil unrest. Johnno (Cristian Ortega) lives with his mum, Alison (Laura Fraser), and his would-be stepdad, Robert (Brian Ferguson), a straight-laced police officer. Alison and Robert dream of moving away from the depressing estate in which they live to a starter home in a nicer neighbourhood. In the meantime, schoolboy Johnno has a thankless part-time job stacking shelves at the local supermarket, and spends his downtime hanging out with his best pal, Spanner (Lorn MacDonald). This does not sit well with Alison and Robert, who openly refer to Spanner as ‘scum.’ Spanner’s older brother, Fido (Neil Leiper), is a notorious drug dealer, and seems to get a kick out of bullying his younger sibling at every opportunity.
On a local radio station, D-Man (Ross Mann) keeps trumpeting an upcoming illegal rave (details to follow) and Spanner tries to persuade his friend to go along to it with him, so they can have one last fling together before Johnno heads off to his new home in the suburbs. But nicking a stash of money from Fido to enable them to finance the trip might not be their wisest move…
Beats manages to do the impossible, making me nostalgic for a music scene I have no personal experience of. Ortega and MacDonald enact a brilliant odd-couple partnership – the former all glum-faced desperation, the latter a grinning, gurning powerhouse. (We last saw MacDonald in the terrific Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley, who also wrote this screenplay.) Brian Welsh directs with aplomb, and the stark black and white cinematography of Benjamin Kracun is an absolute joy to behold, building as it does to an extended rave sequence, where the loved-up, E-fuelled revellers dance wildly and the screen suddenly explodes into full colour. The effect is, quite simply, mesmerising.
If I have a minor niggle it’s simply that the sound levels of that pulsing, throbbing soundtrack are kept a little too polite. I keep anticipating a sudden push into full volume that never comes – but, well, I guess you can’t have everything.
Beats is a film about escape. All the characters, for their own particular reasons, are trying to outrun something that brings them down – poverty, violence, bullying, boredom… you name it. For one night, in a deserted warehouse off the M8, it can all be put aside and forgotten in a blaze of lights and music.
On our way home it’s still raining, but somehow we barely even notice it.