Beautiful Beings

***1/2

Reviewed by: Antoni Konieczny

Beautiful Beings
"Much of the film’s raw effectiveness is due to the young cast’s wisdom and effortless on-screen chemistry." | Photo: © Sturla Brandth Grøvlen/Join Motion Pictures

Aligning itself with the bleaker coming-of-age films, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Beautiful Beings takes on the glamour and the anxieties that define teenagehood. Through the 39-year-old’s lens, the brutality and camaraderie of these formative years blend seamlessly while conjuring a contemplation of friendship, violence, and abuse that is as humanistic as it is unsettling.

The place is Iceland, and the time, probably not today considering social media’s absence and some rather old-school technology. We meet the film’s protagonist in Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason) as he mockingly calls a victim of bullying, and incidentally his schoolmate Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason) “some total nerd” when the latter makes the news after having been brutally assaulted by his peers. Addi may not be a bad guy after all, though - he and his friends, Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson) and Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson), later take Balli under their wing. Addi also possesses a peculiar vision-involving gift from his psychic mother, which may just come in handy in the view of the trouble this company insists on getting into.

It’s not always that the boys are architects of their problems, however. Abusive parents, sexual predators and cruel peers are only some of the dangers the teenagers will come to grapple with. Guðmundsson lends the same immediacy to the boys’ internal struggles - Konni’s recklessness, Balli’s self-doubt, their pursuit of masculinity. Indeed, much of the film’s raw effectiveness is due to the young cast’s wisdom and effortless on-screen chemistry. There is honesty to the central performances that endears the boys to the viewers despite their occasional acts of viciousness.

For all the frankness the film accomplishes, it could easily, like so many other coming-of-age films before it, fall victim to storytelling clichés. In all fairness, Beautiful Beings does not trouble itself much with attempts at reinventing the genre. Instead, it focuses on delivering a unique presentation - impressionistic imagery and gentle nods at magical realism complement a more grounded, down-to-earth aesthetic; neither style dominates, rather, they converse and flirt with one another.

The film sheds its tonal skins at least as confidently: in a manner similar Guillermo del Toro and one worthy of Stephen Chbosky’s best efforts, Guðmundsson tends to take sudden turns toward horrors and gloom, real as often as imagined, juxtaposed against the moments of bliss, and which catch his audience off-guard. With the number of disturbing topics the story handles, the approach renders the watching experience all the more visceral.

If sincerity were the sole standard for which coming-of-age dramas were judged, Beautiful Beings would be sure to get a passing grade. Importantly though, the film goes beyond ensuring verisimilitude. This Icelandic feature is an example of a compelling mix of warmth and darkness that will shake you up before it will melt your heart.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2022
Share this with others on...
A teenage boy raised by a clairvoyant mother, adopts a bullied kid into his group of violent misfits.

Festivals:

BIFF 2022

Search database: