Brian Welsh’s latest film, BEATS, is a journey back to Scotland in ‘94 and its illegal rave culture. The film follows two best friends as they tackle life and try and get into a huge event organised by the host of a rave radio show. The synopsis might seem simple in its nature but this film is dense with important themes: class, crime and familial dynamics.
BEATS stirs nostalgic emotions amongst a broad range of audiences (even those not present or old enough to remember the era) because of its overarching themes. The search for meaning in the swathes of youth across our nation is perfectly personified in Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and the rest of the cast. An angry glance at the rise of conservatism and classist policies in Britain is possibly its most poignant theme, and is intoxicatingly prevalent in BEATS. A rise of conservatism is being felt by those today and, therefore, this film bridges the gap between the period setting and modern day.
The friendship between Spanner and Johnno is at the forefront of this comedic drama. Their dedication to one another creates an emotional tinge for the audience once it is revealed they do not stay friends into adulthood. This plot point is not unusual in reality, though, and is another instance where the film connects with its audience. Childhood friendships are strong and often fondly remembered, however, they are not always as long-lasting. BEATS is relatable for a range of viewers, but it does input short moments which are solely for a Scottish viewer. Some comedy may be missed by those who have not been brought up in Scotland but this is not a downfall. The small segments that are inherently Scottish create a sort of secret love letter to the rebel in every Scot, whether they are a Spanner or a Johnno.
BEATS is a stylistic dream. The film is shot entirely in black and white and this choice creates a gritty yet beautiful piece of cinema. The incredible soundtrack adds to the emotion and intensity of the film. Rave music may not be for everyone but the film manages to create a platform for the genre so its importance here can be appreciated.
Every performance in the film was noteworthy, particularly those of Macdonald and Ortega, and those playing Wendy (Rachel Jackson), Robert (Brian Ferguson), D-Mann (Ross Mann), and Laura (Gemma McElhinney). The performances were subtle in their nature but provided a lot of punch. Spanner was a complicated character and Lorn Macdonald’s ability to capture the layers without appearing forced or caricatured is an enormous credit. The characters were very well written, with close attention paid to each. The beauty of the characters in BEATS is that they are all like someone an audience member may know from their youth, even if that someone is themselves.
BEATS is a terrific watch and has paved the way for a new era of Scottish Cinema. The emotional connection created with the audience, soundtrack, cinematography and performances make the future of Scottish film look bright.