Beast Synopsis: Recently widowed Dr. Nate Daniels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) travel to a South African game reserve managed by Martin Battles, an old family friend, and wildlife biologist. However, what begins as a journey of healing soon becomes a fearsome fight for survival when a lion, a survivor of bloodthirsty poachers, begins stalking them.
A sincere yet work-oriented family man must protect his family from a lethal lion out for vengeance in Beast. The survival of the fittest rush behind close-quarters thrillers is a cinematic staple as old as summer blockbusters themselves. Ever since Steven Speilberg transformed tranquil ocean seas into a shark-infested hellscape with Jaws, Hollywood continues to mine palpable tension from death-defying encounters between man and creature.
Set amidst the scorching African landscape, Beast plays into the subgenre’s sensibilities with a keen understanding of its appeals. The final product provides a ferociously captivating slice of B-movie entertainment for late-summer audiences.
It would have been easy for Beast to comfortably operate in the looming shadow of its notable forefathers. While the movie does adhere to some conventions, director Baltasar Kormákur reinvigorates tried and true formula from the gritty textures of his realistic approach. Kormákur, the overlooked craftsperson behind similar survivalist thrillers like Adrift and Everest, possesses an aesthetic identity outside of Hollywood’s typical bombast.
He and his creative team maintain patient control of the narrative’s gradual build-up, exhibiting exacting precision as an everyday situation morphs into a nightmarish reality. The mix of Director of Photography’s Baltasar Breki intimate, sweat-induced visuals and Composer Steven Price’s atmospheric score also help construct a sense of palpable unease.
Once the hard-hitting action arrives, Kormákur delivers a gleefully relentless roller coaster ride. The director takes full advantage of the carnage concentrated in his high-concept premise, constructing several inventive setpieces that bristle with energy and suspense. Each violent clash comes to life with unrelenting urgency. The whiplash camera movements and bloodied imagery develop an authentic state of danger – even as the characters find themselves in exceedingly far-fetched situations. The idea of seeing Idris Elba wrestle against a lion may sound incredibly silly on paper, but it’s the genuine commitment Kormákur makes to the material that effectively sells the conceit.
Beast would not boast the same allures without Elba’s assured presence. The actor delivers a movie-star performance in the best possible sense, effectively inhabiting his everyman protagonist Nate with dynamic charisma and proper gravitas. Even as the film dredges into familiar territory with its familial melodrama, Elba and his expressive vulnerabilities prevent the material from feeling false. Co-stars Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries also enrich their standard-issue roles as Nate’s daughters, while Sharlto Copley imbues conviction into his part as a local anti-poacher.
The distinct strengths of Beast help curb the film’s inherently workmanlike qualities. Jaime Primak Sullivan and Ryan Engle collaborate on a screenplay that comfortably goes through the motions without elevating its tired mechanics. The performances and direction help tremendously in re-energizing these age-old contrivances, but the material’s generic origins can still be seen from the viewers’ periphery. I also wish the screenplay did more to touch upon its poacher undercurrent. The vital topic ends up getting reduced to meaningless window dressing despite its relevance.
Still, Beast is the type of relentless popcorn film that the summer movie season is made for. I had a blast sinking my teeth into this dopey thrill ride, and I hope Hollywood continues to keep this subgenre afloat in cineplexes.