Year:  2022

Director:  Baltasar Kormákur

Rated:  MA

Release:  August 25, 2022

Distributor: Universal

Running time: 93 minutes

Worth: $15.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries

… a competent piece of entertainment that is best consumed by not overthinking what’s going on … despite its flaws, it’s a magnificent looking movie and a big screen adventure.

Want to see Idris Elba punch a lion? Of course you do, and the trailer for Baltasar Kormákur’s survivalist movie Beast provides you with that particular zinger. Want to see why Idris Elba is in the position of having to punch a lion? That’s a trickier proposition and one that can be answered with a resounding “I guess so.”

Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a father who travels with his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) to South Africa as a way to reconnect with them after the death of their mother. Nate and his late wife were separated at the time of her death, and he is experiencing a good deal of guilt about not being there enough for his girls and not being able to save his wife from the cancer that eventually took her.

A trip to her hometown in a South African savannah is Nate’s attempt to heal the rift that has widened with his family, especially his eldest daughter Meredith (who insists on being called Mer now). They have come to stay with one of Nate’s oldest friends, Martin (Sharlto Copley) who introduced Nate to his wife back in their university days. Martin is a ranger for the local area and a general good guy who cares deeply about preserving the wildlife in the area.

The film opens with poachers trapping and killing a pride of lions. One escapes the bloodbath and has revenge on his leonine brain, and frankly, fair enough. Poaching is a blight in many countries, and it is impossible to have sympathy for the perpetrators. Unfortunately for Nate and his family, the particular lion in question isn’t limiting his revenge to just poachers, he’s taking out every human he encounters in a blood-soaked rage. “The law of the jungle” is amped up to the extreme.

Martin takes the family on an excursion through the savannah, stopping to visit a pride of lions that he has known since they were cubs. Martin gets his Born Free moment as one of the lions embraces him. He also notices that one of the lionesses has been wounded. He tries to approach her, but the males won’t let him. Traditionally male lions protect the pride, and it is the lioness who is the hunter. The girls are fascinated by the interaction, but Nate urges them to stay a decent distance from the group. Mer gets angry at her father for taking on a parental role after he has been doing a generally awful job in the past. Squabbles about Nate’s seeming lack of interest in the family abound, but it will soon be the least of their worries as they come closer to the path of the murderous lion.

As the group travel further down the road, they encounter a man who has been attacked. He calls the lion “the devil”. Martin fears the worst and takes the family to a nearby settlement. The lion got there first, and the village is littered with corpses. Despite Nate and Martin trying to keep the girls away from the carnage, the wilful teens do not heed their advice (this happens so often that one can just feel Ryan Engle’s screenplay riffing on traditional slashers and horror films). Soon the lion has the family in his sights, and it eventually comes down to Nate and the girls being able to function as a unit to defeat the preternaturally strong apex predator.

Icelandic director Kormákur is no stranger to the survivalist genre having made Everest and Adrift. Elba is no slouch in the genre either with his turn in The Mountain Between Us. The pairing of director and actor works a treat despite a relatively thin script that has some terribly clunky dialogue. Kormákur in conjunction with award-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot have constructed a handsome looking affair which delivers on its tension and dread. Although the lions are CGI, it doesn’t detract from their ability to unnerve.

The biggest issue with the film isn’t how it looks, or even the metaphor that the family that is prey together, stays together – it’s that the script is constantly asking the audience to accept truly knuckleheaded decisions that the characters make and then pretends that these same characters have paid enough attention in one morning to outwit the predator that is stalking them. It also demands that one accepts a lion capable of taking out a village, rounding up the family, setting up bait, etc., but doesn’t manage to use all its senses to hunt.

Poking holes in a B-film is easy, and Beast is a B-film. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it being so, as long as it entertains and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Beast does manage to entertain on a base level. It does take itself a little too seriously and even with its short run-time, there are aspects of the film that could have been cut (Nate’s dream sequences for example) for a leaner and meaner film.

Elba is a fantastic actor who manages to elevate most films that he appears in (no-one is ever going to mention Cats again) and newcomers Halley and Jeffries turn in believable performances as wounded teens (possibly less believable as bad-asses who can take down a lion, but we are in Jurassic Park territory in terms of kids outsmarting predators). Sharlto Copley is always a reliable presence, and he gives Martin enough gravitas that we can buy what he is selling.

Beast isn’t going to make much of a mark or even significantly add to its own genre (it’s no Jaws or Crawl), but it is a competent piece of entertainment that is best consumed by not overthinking what’s going on. In the US, the film didn’t make much of a dent at the box office even as an August release, and will most likely repeat the same here, and will soon be shuttled off to streaming which is a shame because despite its flaws, it’s a magnificent looking movie and a big screen adventure.


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