Vague Visages’ Beautiful Beings review contains minor spoilers. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s 2022 movie stars Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Áskell Einar Pálmason and Viktor Benóný Benediktsson. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Victim blamers rinse and repeat their methods. One, deny the accusation. Two, gaslight to create division (either within the victim’s mind or their social circle). Three, increase pressure to secure silence. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Beautiful Beings investigates such behavioral patterns that affect the lives of Icelandic youths in the capital city of Reykjavík. There’s brutality and bad choices, mysticism and mind travel. The director positions the audience in a broken-down, filthy home, where a young boy named Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason) tries to process routine bullying and familial abandonment. By the sea, the kid cries and cuts his wrists while smoking Camels. He needs a friend. Hell, Balli just needs someone who gives a damn. Help arrives in the form of Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason), a smart-ass rebel who welcomes the bullied boy into his band of outsiders. These teenagers care little about the local adults who treat them like trash. Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson) finds revenge on his step-father by pouring dog sperm in his favorite drink. Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson), aka The Animal, smashes the face of anyone who pisses him off. Balli and company all hide secrets because they are disposable beings.
“Like me or not, I just want to be left alone,” Balli says on the local news in Beautiful Beings after a savage beating by stick. Guðmundsson quickly identifies the sea as the protagonist’s safe space, and uses an opening nature visual to hint at the circle of life. He also incorporates themes of abandonment and persecution right away, as Addi and his pals bully Balli before initiating him through a finely directed bathroom sequence — a baptism into a life of shared solitude. Just when Beautiful Beings starts to feel like a typical trauma porn flick, Guðmundsson brings body horror into the narrative, along with a magical realism element, to thematically underscore Addi’s unresolved identity issues. Guðmundsson caps off the first act with a revelatory narration montage that effectively details the personalities of each main protagonist, with Balli being the least equipped to handle pressure from adults.
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Guðmundsson and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen create loaded visuals in Beautiful Beings. Most impressively, they explore every nook and cranny of Balli’s home while teasing the homoerotic friendship between Addi and Konni. To create deeper subtext, the filmmakers explore the characters’ minds through dreamscape sequences. Incidentally, the protagonists feel authentic and fully developed. One can predict how each will act in a moment of intense pressure. Guðmundsson, who also wrote Beautiful Beings’ script, allows the audience to identify behavioral patterns but keeps them guessing through a subplot about Addi’s clairvoyant abilities.
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At times, Beautiful Beings feels like a cinematic descendant of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), if only because of certain horror-themed visuals. But Guðmundsson’s departures from reality quickly transition to gritty domestic sequences. And this is where Beautiful Beings’ sound design stands out. A bullied boy named Danni (Theodór Pálsson) howls like a scared animal while fleeing from a home. And Balli’s stepfather growls like a beast during a crucial interior scene, one that aligns with ghoulish monsters that appear to Addi. On top of that, Beautiful Beings has a sweet soundtrack that complements the rebel yells of the main players.
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Beautiful Beings’ darkest sequences raise questions about the main protagonists’ motivations, and how they ended up in certain situations. The director ties up some loose ends but mostly lets the viewer connect the dots, in terms of the characters’ backstories. Guðmundsson’s attention to detail in Beautiful Beings, both with the direction and script, suggests that he will become one of Iceland’s most exciting filmmakers.
Beautiful Beings, Iceland’s submission for the 95th Academy Awards, opened in New York City and Los Angeles in January 2023 via Altered Innocence.
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Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Drama, Featured
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