Film

Beats review: Pills, thrills and belly laughs with a shot of nostalgia

Scottish drama Beats captures the untrammelled hedonism and joyous chaos of the Nineties rave scene in all its grubby glory – but as Cath Clarke finds out, the comedown is messy

Is there a German compound noun for the euphoric feeling of being a teenager on a dancefloor and knowing that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be? If not, this movie from the Scottish director Brian Welsh about a pair of West Lothian lads desperate to make it to an illegal rave in the mid-Nineties will do the job. Beats is a kind of B-side to Trainspotting: the recreational drugs edit. It’s a film with pills, thrills and belly laughs – nostalgic and sentimental in all the right places, with some grittily effective social realism and fine examples of the artistry of Scottish swearing: “Fuck off you fuck-nugget”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o2xteiJt94

Welsh directs from a screenplay he wrote with Kieran Hurley based on the latter’s one-man play. Cristian Ortega (spookily, he’s the spit of a young Jonny Lee Miller) plays Johnno, a quiet, angsty lad who lives mostly inside his own head. His mum and stepdad have bought a new-build house in the suburbs, but Johnno can’t bring himself to tell his best mate Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) that he’s leaving. A skinny kid with a shaved head and big jutty-out ears, the world has already written off Spanner as a lost cause. Mainly because his big brother is local headcase Fido (Neil Leiper, lean like a fighting dog). The two or three scenes in their house are harrowing and heartbreaking. Johnno is the only person who sees how bright Spanner is, how vulnerable. There’s a puppy-dog loveliness to their friendship.

Pure prison-grade psychopath,

A bank of TV screens in a shop sets the scene. It’s 1994 and Tony Blair, newly elected opposition leader, addresses the Labour Party conference all smiles and sun-lit optimism about the bright future of meritocratic Britain. On another screen protesters march against the Tories’ Criminal Justice Bill, which gives police the power to shut down illegal raves. And it’s an illegal rave that Johnno and Spanner head to, recklessly stealing a wad of cash from Fido, who is the film’s Begbie – scarier than Begbie possibly, because there is zero humour about him, just pure prison-grade psychopath.

It’s hard to believe now that in the days before the internet, caners managed to navigate themselves to raves at secret locations, following rubbish directions left on an answer machine. A pirate radio station DJ puts the call out. “Prepare to drop the fuck out.” Johnno and Spanner join the convoy of cars to a field in the middle of nowhere. Fido is on their case, twitching with rage. The police, too, are close by, with orders to shut down the party.

Club scenes in movies are usually excruciating in their awfulness. But Welsh and his actors get inside that moment of feeling like you are part something big and beautiful. But in the end this is one big long break-up movie. Johnno is moving on. Partying over, he’ll choose life – college, decent job, a future. And what of Spanner? Lurking under the euphoric high, there is a pessimism here, a bitter disappointment in New Labour’s undelivered promises. Things won’t get better for Spanner. He is trapped.

What an impressive film this is. It has the look and feel of an instant classic. Oh, and it’s shot in black and white – because of budget constraints or for the nostalgia factor? Who knows, but it looks cool.

Beats is in cinemas from May 17

  

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'
Furiosa
Film

Furiosa director George Miller on the function of stories and why Mad Max is a 'cautionary tale'

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover
Garfield in The Garfield Movie
Film

The Garfield Movie review – we're not feline the tubby orange tabby's full CGI makeover

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him
Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell, 1981.
Film

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger – Scorsese's tribute to duo who inspired him

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts
Stephen Giddings in Stephen
Film

Filmmaker Melanie Manchot explains how her drama Stephen can offer hope to addicts

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know