Beautiful Beings - New Release Review
Director: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
Starring: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Áskell Einar Pálmason, Viktor Benóný Benediktsson, Snorri Rafn Frímannsson
Written by: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson
Produced by: Anton Máni Svansson
Cinematography by: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Original Score by: Kristian Eidnes Andersen
A teenage boy raised by a clairvoyant mother takes a bullied kid into his gang of violent outsiders.
'Beautiful Beings' is a powerful and gripping tale about friendship, brotherhood and the harrowed alienation of youth. It's been hailed as Iceland's answer to 'Stand By Me' and rightly so, it does share some similarities with Rob Reiner's classic coming of age film but it actually has more in common with Shane Meadows' 'This Is England'. It's hard to watch at times but impossible to look away.
Áskell Einar Pálmason plays Balli, a young oddball type kid who lives with his Mother in squalor and gets bullied for being an outcast. After a horrific attack by a group of schoolboys, Balli is left with horrible facial injuries which require him to wear a mask for some time.
Balli appears on local TV news after the incident and his existence catches the attention of Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason), an outcast himself in many ways but perhaps not to extent of Balli. Addi and his friends Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson) and Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson) first interactions with Balli are a bit forceful and degrading but Addi seems to see some of himself in Balli and takes a shine to him. Eventually Siggi and Konni come around to Balli also after some semi-cruel initiations and they even help to clean Balli's house up and try to set him up with a girl.
But Konni gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and asks Addi for help. The kind of help he needs will require some physicality. Being the fiercely loyal friend that Addi is, he steps up and supports Konni, even when he really doesn't want to get involved. The gang are constantly getting into physical altercations that continuously get more heated and more dangerous as the film progresses. Eventually their loyalty gets the better of them as an act of violence boils over too far and the worse happens.
This is very much a film about lashing out at a world that is passing you by and laughing at you as it does so. These young boys don't have much going for them. They live in an underprivileged part of Reykjavik, one that is all dirty countryside and dishevelled streets (very much a throwback to early to mid 1990s England or Ireland) and their days are spent finding anything to amuse themselves with that will distract them from their destitute existence. They all come from broken families with little to no education or aspirations for a future outside of their beige domain. It's tragic.
Konni's nickname is "The Animal" because he's grown up in an abusive household and all he knows is violence. Siggi's mother is ill and his relationship with his stepdad is nonexistent so he eternally acts outs like a smart arse. He's the joker who really doesn't understand when to stop. Addi is the Chris Chambers type character. The silent leader who is tough as nails but doesn't lash out like his pal Konni. He's a little more streetwise. Quiet but deadly and more accepting. The film is mostly told through his eyes. He also has something very important that his other friends don't. He has the power of foresight. Very limited to begin with but through the help of his Mother, who also has the gift, Addi is assisted in harnessing his clairvoyance. It's an interesting plot twist that is subtly pushed to the forefront towards the end of the film but it's never overexploited in any way.
Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson tells the story, much like how Shane Meadows did, with intoxicating intensity but also a tenderness that is genuinely touching. I was especially surprised and engrossed by how the boys embraced each other lovingly. Not something you often see. It certainly doesn't have the laughs that 'This Is England' provides or the musical charm either but it shares the deftly grimness of the bleak world that these aggressive youths inhabit, or more appropriately survive in. And what a world it is to look at. It really does have an early 90s look to it although it can't be since there's mobile phones and internet present. Sturla Brandth Gøvlen's cinematography is glorious. Stunning images that still have that grainy, nostalgic feel to it. It really elevates the film.
There's an obvious theme here about friendship and looking past the exterior to the person inside. The end is a tad anticlimactic in that the film feels like it's building to something special when it sort of just peters out to credits which is a little bit of a shame. Nevertheless 'Beautiful Beings' packs a punch and even though it's very bleak with harsh realism that some viewers might not dig, the performances from the young boys are stellar and if you're a fan of Shane Meadows filmography then this will be right up your street.
- Gavin Logan
Signature Entertainment presents 'Beautiful Beings' on Digital Platforms 30th January