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Beautiful Beings Review – The Haunting Duality of Lost Causes and Friends Who Save Us

January 10, 2023

Icelandic Oscar submission Beautiful Beings by writer and director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson is a snapshot in time of a group of four teenagers on the brink of disaster or metamorphosis. The violent yet tender film with carefully placed moments of magical realism is hard-hitting and haunting. It’s a film that will stick with you and make you think about how fragile we are in times when we try our best to pretend otherwise.

beautiful beings

Children are capable of such innate cruelty and touching kindness. Yet sometimes they can turn into a dime, becoming bullies when a moment before they were protectors. What makes a boy a target for some and something others care about? Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason), a neglected and dirty teenager with a tumultuous family life and a vicious attack as his first film entry, is painfully vulnerable. His mother is rarely home and his stepfather is even worse. Luckily, he’s rarely around, but when he’s there, he inflicts the worst abuse on the family.

When Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason) sees a news report about this poor child recovering in hospital and forced to wear a mask to protect his healing facial bones, it triggers something inside him that ignites when he see at school. He invites her into his group out of the blue, and as things spiral to a violent conclusion, Addi begins to have visions of what could be. But will he heed these warnings and save himself and his friends before it’s too late?

When Addi shows up at Balli’s house with her friends, it sets them on a path that could be their salvation or their end. Addi is joined by Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson), a childish bully with a horrible family life that has him looking for a fight around every corner. He spends his days avoiding his father, of whom he is terrified, and bruised for battle. Addi claims that Konni is the leader of their group, but his penchant for trouble and short temper makes him Addi’s watchdog muscle. The fourth member of the group Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson), is a nervous little hyena of a boy who slips through life just trying to avoid starving to death and being beaten. His nerves make him reluctant to accept Balli until he realizes he is no longer the lowest rung on the ladder.

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Guðmundsson’s screenplay skilfully depicts the casual cruelty of the boys’ language. They wield slurs and barbs as weapons designed to elevate themselves within the group while masking their exposure. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but too natural for comfort. As a result, Beautiful Beings sounds and feels like the flowing, languorous lives of children around the world.

Addi is a literal and figurative golden boy to these troubled souls. Handsome, with blond hair and a smooth baby face, he has the best family life. Her father is absent most of the time, but her mother is adorable and present. She cares about her son even though she doesn’t realize how in trouble he is. It is from her that Addi’s intuition and visions come.

There are times when you may feel that different parenting and better decision-making could change the outcomes for these children. Tragedy and trauma need not be inevitable for each of them. Addi is drawn into Konni and Balli’s chaos, but despite ignoring his mother’s concern about what happened to Balli the night before on the news, the next day he finds himself drawn to the boy. The group even goes so far as to bring him food, help clean his house, and even kindly attempt some self-care. The friendliness of these boys who jockey for position and push boundaries allows them to take care of each other as quickly as they land punches. They keep secrets from their friends, save them as much pain as possible, and worry about their well-being even if they don’t always know how to help them.

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Beyond the boys themselves, there are questions. Can these children be saved? Are they doomed to be their parents? Between each painful, sympathetic pinch, there are beats of violence so extreme that they leave little room for compassion. Konni, in particular, is a lightning bolt for tragedy. You are so terrified of him that you want to protect him from his father’s fists. He throws himself into life swinging even when there’s no reason to fight.

More than anything, Beautiful Beings is about the toxicity of generational male violence. This film shows that the cycle can be almost inevitable. Like a ship’s anchor holding you down or in place, our friends and their baggage can keep us safe or drag us to dark, cold places that even Iceland’s bright blue sun can’t touch.

The stellar cast is filmed voyeuristically. Every swipe of soft bangs, peach fuzz and acne lingers as if the camera lens wants to preserve the lives of these boys even though it’s tasked with photographing them from a distance. The camerawork of DP Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (The Innocents) is a master at capturing the harshness of childhood. His lens dances between the boys’ giggles and smiles, never allowing us to forget that both exist. All of this passed through a haze of cigarette smoke and dappled sunlight that suspends you in dread.

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Tense with worry, you’re still in shock when Konni unleashes a bizarre and largely unprovoked attack on a group of boys at a party. A dreamy, dizzying atmosphere closer to the opening moments of a nightmare than a daydream allows the subtle moments of magical realism to shine through. Discreet hallucinations convey a wealth of truth in their simplicity.

It’s not often that a movie about boys who scare me so much also makes me feel so motherly. Most heartbreaking is that, as horrible as their language and behavior may be, there remains a shred of innocence. A small glimmer of hope that there is immense sweetness in these boys who should be protected and nurtured. A seed to cling to even as despair sets in. Maybe they don’t have to ruin each other. It shapes every interaction and scene, filling Beautiful Beings with such poignant emotion that you’re as bruised and bruised as the boys by the end of the film.

Ultimately, Beautiful Beings is like the boys themselves. It’s vicious and tender, breathtaking and brutal, and utterly unforgettable.

Tracy Palm Tree

As the editor of Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the editor.

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