Icelandic film-maker Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s new movie is the followup to his much-admired 2016 debut Heartstone, about the relationship between two teenage boys. The theme of bullying from that film, and its keynotes of sensuality and vulnerability, are detectable also in this well-made but in some ways unrewarding film which declines to take narrative responsibility for its inevitable, climactic act of violence, whose legal aftermath appears finally to vanish in favour of some vaguely defined coming-of-age friendship-blossoming between the two leads Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason) and Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason).
Addi is a delinquent teen who leads a gang of bullies: scary tough guy Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson), who is already well known to the police, and Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson), a nerdy gang member, lowest down the food chain. But Addi isn’t just any old hoodlum: he is secretly sensitive, with a tendency towards romantic visions, inherited from his psychic mother, but also apparently symptoms of a mental illness which take this realist picture into transcendent or hallucinatory realms.
It is for complex reasons that Addi decides to take pity on a pathetic local kid, a bully-victim whose injuries from a recent beating have actually got him on the local TV news: this is Balli, whom Addi’s glowering associates have no choice but to accept into their group. Why does Addi want to befriend Balli? A charity case? Because he wants to bully him himself? Because he protectively feels a kind of kindred spirit as he himself has perhaps known ill-treatment? Does he feel attracted to Balli? It isn’t clear. But when we learn that Balli has an abusive stepfather who is doing hateful things to Balli, his sister and his mother, it is quite clear where this is all headed. Beautiful Beings is shot with real style, with very good performances, but the cliched and consequence-free violence is a flaw.
• Beautiful Beings is released on 30 January on digital platforms.