Idris Elba is Dr. Nate Samuels, a man visiting his late wife’s African homeland with his two teenage daughters in the predictable, playful creature feature Beast. The Savannah-set B-movie from director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest, 2 Guns) is a lean, mean summer slasher, all tightly-coiled, knuckle-headed muscle and razor-sharp claws lacking any more brain cells than absolutely required. A vengeful lion hunting humans for sport attacks the good doctor, his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), and their anti-poacher family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) while the group is on safari. They must lean on their wits to outsmart the beast and come out of the bush in one piece.
About as formulaic as survival-thrillers come, Beast overcomes the cliche of its man versus force of nature plotting with great pacing and brutal lion on human violence. Kormákur has a proven hand when it comes to ratcheting up tension (look at his grim survival thriller Everest for further proof) and there’s isn’t a single shot after the bloodthirsty alpa male lion is introduced that isn’t stalked with unease. He throws in a gaggle of poachers both in the early proceedings and throughout the feature to ensure that there’s a good measure of bloodletting as well.
[READ MORE: Our review of Baltasar Kormákur’s ‘Everest‘ starring Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal]
A slasher in the purest sense, Beast is a blunt, straightforward affair: man killed lion’s family. Lion wants to kill man. There’s a purity of intent here that can be too rare amongst horror or survival movies. A kind of rub against the heady elevated horror that so often gets critical acclaim and attention, Beast wrings as much juice out of its simple concept as it can. Sometimes it’s just enough to watch a massive jungle animal skulk and occasionally swallow humans for an hour and a half or so. This is such a case. The script from Ryan Engle (Rampage) doesn’t bother trying to explore much more than this very basic man vs. wild dynamic, inserting the complication of Dr. Nate and his oldest daughter’s fraught relationship to ground the stakes in something greater than just their survival. For all intents and purposes, it works.
The titular beast is apex predatory as killing machine. A bloodthirsty lion forged in the fury of poachers massacring his pride, Beast’s furious feline is an imposing physical force – and one that’s rendered digitally with impressive precision. For an entirety computer-animated creation, the lion’s prowess is never less than intimidating, from the rough texture of his ragged fur to his powerfully guttural mews. As many still resist the theatrical experience, Beast proves its illustrious power – and the great joy of the communal audience experience. In moments when the lethal lion is unleashed upon the film’s human counterpart, Kormákur doesn’t back away from the brutality, the film’s R-rating allowing for just the right amount – if never excessive – of stick-to-your-ribs gore. A packed house is just the company you want when the claws start flying.
There are too many moments when the maned menace loses his sense of smell or sight at critical junctions, always whenever our protagonist is fully exposed to the elements and not within the safety of a vehicle or structure – lazy writing for the sake of plot convenience – but it doesn’t take away from the beast’s staggering dread. Whenever he’s in the frame, whether he’s inches away or a 100-meter dash, the audience is primed to understand that danger and death is but a lunge away.
We witness the killer cat churn through roughly nine lives over the course of 90-odd minutes but like any slasher heavy worth their weight, the beast is not an easy foe to tame. Which is what makes seeing Elba in too-rare action hero mode going toe to toe with the king of the jungle just too fun to pass up. What it lacks in intelligence and cleverness, Beast makes up for with brawn. After all, being the kind of the jungle has less to do with cognitive capacity and everything to do with muscle and ferocity.
CONCLUSION: Man vs. Lion B-movie ‘Beast’ doesn’t rewrite the creature feature playbook but nor does it need to. Strong pacing, gnarly animal action, and a worthy lead in Idris Elba make this a sinewy slasher worthy of a cinematic safari to the theater.
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