Writer & director Esteban Arango’s BLAST BEAT begins with a bang—quite literally—in Bogotá, Colombia as brothers Carly and Mateo (Mateo and Moises Arias, respectively) attempt to outrun the local police after Mateo and his friend blow up the neighbors backyard playhouse in 1999.
Life for the brothers is filled with sibling rivalry as Carly, a mathematical genius with his eyes on NASA, constantly overshadows the creative and rebellious Mateo in the eyes of their parents (played by Wilmer Valderrama and Orange Is The New Black‘s Diane Guerrero). After fleeing from being extorted into joining the guerrilla army in 1999 (or the anti-guerrilla army—honestly the film’s sociopolitical context was unclear for anyone without extensive knowledge on the subject), the family is forced to seek refuge in suburban Atlanta.
Now, Carly and Mateo are forced to assimilate with a new community that cannot even pick out Colombia on a world map. At home, the family grapples with the reality of moving from an upper-middle class neighborhood to a lower income area in a country they never wanted to move to in the first place.
BLAST BEAT serves as a criticism of the American Dream.
From here the boys’ stories find new depth, as Carly seeks to quietly blend in while Mateo has a harder time keeping quiet when his white peers immediately launch into anti-immigrant sentiments on Mateo’s first day of school. At home, their parents lay on the pressure to succeed in a society and legal system that is consistently working against them. After pivoting into house painting from what audiences can assume is a more refined career path back home in Bogotá (it’s never really clarified), Carly and Mateo’s father emphasizes that he doesn’t want his sons to succumb to the same fate.
For Carly, that means earning a place in a coveted science program at NASA. But for Mateo, art—the only career of interest to him—is simply not an option. BLAST BEAT serves as a gentle reminder that privilege and the American Dream are often reserved for those that were born into it—and anyone else has to work twice as hard. For people like Carly and Mateo, there is a lot more to achieving the American Dream than simply doing well in high school and getting into a good college.
A refreshing take on immigrant life in the United States.
Where BLAST BEAT thrives is in its ability to tell an out-of-the-ordinary story about immigration through the eyes of a family that becomes stifled by a broken system. In Hollywood, many stories about immigrant life attempt to portray America as a saving grace—a new beginning—for people that don’t have the same level of opportunity in their home countries. As if working a service job is a position that one should be grateful for, rather than providing infrastructure to further an existing career path and pay grade.
While it may come with good intention, the narrative often serves as a method of hammering home the white savior complex that plagues America today. One that consistently portrays the American Dream in an unrealistic light wherein Latin immigrants are often portrayed as criminals or people that should be grateful to live in poverty.
BLAST BEAT, which was written by Colombian natives Esteban Arango and Erick Castrillon, effectively breaks down that narrative by proving otherwise. Where Carly may benefit from being in a convenient proximity to the aerospace and technology programs he’s dreamed of, the rest of his family is better-suited back home in Colombia where they can live a comfortable, upper-middle class life closer to their loved ones. Not every immigration story is the same, and the film seeks to uplift its Colombian and Latin audiences by showing a side that is often forgotten about in film—the side with an authentic identity.
The Arias brothers breathe life into the story.
Complimented by incredible performances by the Arias brothers, who bring their real-life closeness to the big screen in nuanced, highly personal portrayals of brotherhood, BLAST BEAT is both an effective sociopolitical commentary and a coming-of-age drama that will resonate deeply with anyone that grew up with a sibling. Kali Uchis, the renowned Colombian-American pop star, also makes her onscreen debut as Carly’s girlfriend back in Bogotá.
Additionally—and I’ll let this serve as the only reminder that Moises Arias got his start on the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana (because Arias seemed annoyed to hear it brought up in the post-screening q&a session at the premiere)—the film served as a not-so-shocking realization that Moises Arias is Colombian. It’s an unsurprising realization, considering Disney is famous for whitewashing its Latinx actors. If this is the first thing you see Arias in as an adult, you’ll be pleased to find out his acting skills extend far beyond the annoying snack-shack owner in Hannah Montana, and that his identity as a Latin-American is something he is clearly proud of.
Don’t seek BLAST BEAT out as a film that represents metal music, however, as its representation of the music genre is surface-level at best. The genre, much like the film’s placement in the Y2K era, serve as a clear nod to the filmmaker’s own identity as a Colombian of the same age, but fail to add much to the story (especially considering the conflict in Colombia that sent the family to the United States in the first place is an ongoing issue).
Its plot also leaves a lot to be desired, as Carly and Mateo’s relationships with the people they meet in the United States seem to begin with strong foreshadowing only to fizzle out and become forgotten in a mess of other plots. Several love interests for the boys, for example, fail to provide depth to the story as a coming-of-age tale.
As a story about Colombian identity, though—and one of the few actually endorsed by the people the story is about—we have to cut it some slack. The film is truly independent, and a short film by the same name (also starring the Arias brothers) was funded by a Kickstarter campaign some years ago which, on its own, proves a major need for stories like these in film.