Movie Review – Beast (2022)

Principal Cast : Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava.
Synopsis: A father and his two teenage daughters find themselves hunted by a massive rogue lion intent on proving that the Savanna has but one apex predator.


When animals attack: primal fear between humans and the natural world has been fodder for Hollywood action films, thrillers, horror epics and big, medium and low-budget fare for a hundred years. From sharks, crocodiles, anacondas (ha) and everything in between, creatures with sharp teeth and an ability to kill humans have long been a lure to lurid screenwriters looking for a pulp genre storytelling hook, usually capitalising on blockbuster successes such as Jaws. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, known for high-concept projects such as 2 Guns and Everest, turns his attention to the African savannah in this latest man-vs-beast thriller, starring Idris Elba in full-throttle survivalist mode, pitting a typical Everyman against a rogue lion – the king of the beasts, indeed – and offering up one nailbiting journey into sub-Saharan terror.

Elba plays grieving doctor Nate Samuels, who is returning to his late wife’s homeland of South Africa with their two teenage daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava) in an attempt to reconnect with them. They arrive at his old family home, now occupied by one of Nate’s friends Martin (Sharlto Copley), who works as a wildlife biologist at the nearby sanctuary. The quartet take a trip into the African wilderness to seek out a pride of lions on a lark, whereupon they are startled to discover that a wild, rogue lion has started attacking both man and beast in a rampage that threatens the safety of everyone near the park. When their vehicle is attacked, and Martin is gravely injured, Nate and his daughters must fight to survive and escape both the vicious lion and equally nasty poachers lurking nearby, all while being completely out of their depths in the African landscape.

Although I’m mixing my African fauna poorly, Beast would be nothing without the obvious…. er, elephant in the room being at least mentioned. Beast owes a lot of its immediate frisson to a similarly themed mid-90’s dramatic thriller in The Ghost and The Darkness, a Val Kilmer vehicle in which a pair of male man-eater lions terrorise efforts to build a railway across the African continent. If anything, however, the comparison is an entirely a positive one, in that Kormakur takes the most evocative aspects of Stephen Hopkins’ film and bakes it into a taut, thoroughly effective 90-minute thriller, led by a solid Elba and more than ably backed up by his young co-stars. And, of course, a truly ferocious CG lion. The plot itself never asks a lot of the audience, which is exactly what you need from a stock-standard genre film such as this, and screenwriter Ryan Engle peppers in just enough emotional subtext through a dead wife/mother to give single-dimensional characters enough backstory to make their journey of survival hit harder than they otherwise might. That’s not to say Elba’s Nate Samuels is a particularly memorable character, because he isn’t, but in the context and immediacy of the film you’re definitely rooting for him to survive against the teeth and claws coming their way, and that’s enough to make the film work.

A lot of these kinds of low-to-mid budget genre films often fall foul of a couple of crucial issues when it comes to their audience appeal. Some, generally those of a low-budget nature, can’t stump up the cash to produce a competent monster as a prime antagonist force – be it live action, or computer generated, the less money you can spend on your creature/monster the stupider and sillier it looks, kneecapping your film before it even gets started. You might have been able to work that favourably in the Eighties or Nineties, but in 2023 audience expectations – particularly for a major studio film – demand high quality satisfaction. Viewers want Avengers Endgame level effects even if you have the budget of an Asylum production; and producers, writers and directors often go to great lengths to provide the kind of thrills paying customers expect. With a reported budget of almost $60m, Beast isn’t exactly lowest-of-low-budget, and coupled with a limited cast and a fairly sells-itself location for a shoot, the big splash for cash is obviously delivering on a truly excellent rogue lion as your primal threat in the movie. I’m not sure how much – if anything – of the titular beast is practical, although I’d like to think it’s a clever mix of both live-action and CG artifice, but whatever it is, Kormakur’s canny use of his movie’s monster to inject absolute horror and skin-prickling terror is absolutely first rate.

One of the other issues faced with lower budget creature features of this ilk is exactly how often the filmmaker is able to show case his title monster. For Spielberg’s iconic Jaws, the director was stymied by technology and forced to keep the shark hidden for much of that movie, as fateful a film disaster as there has ever been. Other directors are limited in how effective a practical puppet or well-trained a creature might end up looking on camera, and of course computer generated monsters have had a proclivity for looking… off. In Beast, Kormakur and his team showcase the lion like a main hero: full size, out of the shadows, and as often as possible: this is as pure a case of “bang for your buck” as you can get. To be honest, I was startled by just how good the lion looked. I mean, I wasn’t expecting photoreal visual effects a la Disney’s Lion King “live-action” remake, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Beast’s central effect to be quite as decent as it was. The lion feels like it belongs in the African landscape, a raging explosion of growling, roaring, deadly-clawed death and destruction, wrapped in the soft-brown fur of one of the continent’s most iconic animals. Any good creature-monster should have some element of intelligence to make them even more frightening, as if they can outthink their human quarry and make for a more dominant enemy. Beast satisfies on this level as well, with some throwaway dialogue about just how clever the rogue predator appears to be, how it can think its way through a hurdle to achieve its desired outcome – which was, in this case, to slaughter as many human beings as possible, as quickly as possible. This, more than anything else, elevates the film from your standard monster movie outcome.

Beast is a thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride. It delivers what you want – a lion attacking people – and does it with style and a degree of genre quality I didn’t expect from a mid-budget movie, doesn’t outstay its welcome (the film is barely 90 minutes including credits), and showcases not just Idris Elba’s inimitable screen presence, Sharlto Copley’s equally inimitable charm, and the tremendously photographic African desert and jungle in all its glory. At times terrifying, and at all times an absolute blast of pulp genre bliss, Beast is highly recommended.

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