Sundance 2020: Mateo and Moisés Arias Put the American Dream to Test in ‘Blast Beat’ – Review
Colombian director and producer Esteban Arango plows through borders with his feature debut, Blast Beat. Named after a drumbeat style heavily associated with metal music and its derivatives, Blast Beat explores the trials and tribulations of the American dream through a Colombian family. Forced to leave Colombia due to political turmoil in 1999, tension rises between two opposing brothers, a distressed mother, and an absentee father as they try to build a new life in suburban Georgia. Aspirations divide and cultures clash through a system built to make immigrants fail. With their backs to the world- all the family has is each other, faults and all.
Blast Beat surely fits the description of a coming-of-age film, but the Colombian point of view opens doors to many things the subgenre has barely (if ever) seen. The validity of nationalism, inescapable political demons, and genuine representation of struggles unique to Latinx youth pump the film’s heart with blood boiling to be told on the big screen. The special kind of film that upsets at the start of the credits, not because it was bad, but because one did not want it to end. Another one to add to the very short list of young Latinx narratives where gangs, extreme use of narcotics, and other stereotypical crimes are nowhere to be found.
Acting brothers Mateo and Moisés Arias (whom many know got their big breaks on Disney Channel) play brothers Carly and Teo respectively. Those who have been following them recently know their acting chops are nothing short of reputable. Blast Beat, a film in which they play brothers no less, is only the latest work in which the duo get to spread their natural maturing talent. Big brother Carly is a metalhead, complete with long-hair and studded black leather, who dreams of joining NASA with his impressive science skills. Meanwhile, Teo does not have any problems with a lack of set goals for he expresses himself through art. This and his enjoyment of Reggaeton music sets him far apart from Carly.
Mateo and Moisés sell this movie from start to finish. Perhaps it is because they are literally brothers but they portray honesty, brutality, and sensitivity with a commanding screen presence. To balance out their battling gravitas, Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black) brings a sense of charismatic power as their mother. In a great change of pace, Wilmer Valderrama (That 70’s Show) plays their father with strong versatility. Absent from his family’s life not by choice, but due to danger back home. Popstar Kali Uchis also makes her acting debut in a notable and sincere role. These lives did not choose to be born Colombian, but they take what life throws at them and carry the burden of their flag with passion because that is what makes them who they are.
Arango’s direction boosts the kinetic energy required for a youth-lead story up a few extra notches. The use of color makes the screen feel more alive than it would otherwise, while the cinematography simultaneously frames moments of pure bliss. The viewer really does feel like they are progressing with the family through thick and thin. Arango knows how to capture the warmest yet hilarious levity, making for some memorable scene-stealing moments. Constantly underlying all the drama and action is an impeccable synth-heavy score by David Murillo. This may seem odd considering the use of metal and reggaeton music, but it interconnects the thematic usage of sound very well. One can hear inspirations from Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’ works while still standing on its own.
Getting entangled and lost in the lives of hard-working immigrants to only have that swept away by the realities of politics is a necessary cinematic blow to the gut. Blast Beat although whimsical and fantastic is rooted in reality. Immigration is not always as simple as leaving and never coming back- even if done legally. Blast Beat utilizing this truth and projecting it through a gorgeous and genuine lense is no less than beautiful. Lead characters that break stereotypes such as Carly, a devoted Latinx metalhead who is exceptional in science, are such an inspirational breathe of fresh hair. This rare duality can be felt by many and this is only a precedent of what can rightfully come.
Blast Beat is both riveting and elegant in its portrayal of the American dream. The Arias brothers are sure to take the industry by storm and it will by a rattle welcomed with open arms. Do what it takes to see the film because it is a gem in Latinx cinema that cannot be missed.