Beast is a roaring success. One packed to the brim with intense jump scares, visceral action, and brutal lion fury.
Since Stephen Hopkins’ spectacular 1996 lion thriller ‘The Ghost And The Darkness‘ starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer terrified a generation, the world has been waiting for another landmark tale of man versus Beast. And this week, we can all make the pilgrimage to our local cinema to catch the newest installment. There is something inherently terrifying about a human being hunted by a rogue predator. It’s a deep seeded terror that Steven Spielberg expertly harnessed to its full potential in Jaws. But with Idris Elba stepping up to face off against a man-eating rogue lion, can experimental filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur capture lightning in a bottle and deliver the late summer sleeper we are all craving?
Absolutely. Beast is a roaring success. One packed to the brim with intense jump scares, visceral action, and brutal lion fury. And despite its formulaic plot and often inane script, Idris Elba just about does enough to carry the movie across the finish line. The result is a top-draw but ultimately flawed contest between man and beast!
The plot of the movie is as basic as it comes. After an attack from a group of illegal game poachers results in the death of its pride, a rogue lion goes on a quest for vengeance. But instead of solely targeting the poaches that slaughtered its family, the lion begins to stalk every human it comes across. All the while, Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters are heading into the bush on a family retreat designed to rekindle their diminishing relationship. And their guide on this journey of healing is Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), their adopted uncle whose role as an anti-poaching officer brings him into the firing line.
Lensed from the perspective of Idris Elba’s emotionally tortured protagonist, director Baltasar Kormákur quickly sets the tone for what is a chilling fight for survival. After a tense and eye-widening opening salvo, we are introduced to the Samuels family. The wounded father/daughter unit is revealed to be struggling to cope following the loss of its wife and mother. Relationships have frayed and the once-strong family unit is coming apart at the seams. But after discovering a trail of eviscerated bodies, Samuels and his party quickly find themselves in the lions’ sight. And its attacks are as ferocious as they are relentless. But it is here where the film’s failings begin to raise their ugly head.
For the record, Idris Elba delivers a truly notable performance here. Despite the often silly script. He frequently carries the movie on his broad shoulders and drags the plot back onto its feet when it so desperately needs it. And in truth, these moments are far too regular. Yes, the movie is intense. Yes, the movie is packed full of gripping suspense. And yes, the special effects are breathtaking. But when you have a screenplay as cringeworthy as this, you need your leading man to carry the torch and help stick the landing. And Idris Elba truly glows here. But even he struggles to overcome the bizarre choice of dialogue. In fact, some expressions are so out of place that the audience will roar with laughter. And not in a good way.
The same can be said of the supporting cast. As always, Sharlto Copley delivers another standout performance as Martin Battles, the rugged game warden turned anti-poaching enforcer. And his presence is the perfect counterpoint to Elba’s wounded father. But sadly, when Copley disappears for large chunks of the brief 90-minute bonanza, the movie loses some of its polish. Copley doesn’t just serve as the great white hunter and all-out action hero. Here, his role is to convey the message that the lion isn’t a mindless monster. It’s a victim. And it is refreshing for a creature feature to break the mold by avoiding the customary demonizing of its predator. And most importantly, it is here that the film’s subtle but straight-to-the-point anti-poaching message hits home. A vehicle we all need to get behind.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, we’re on solid ground. The two teenagers cast as Elba’s daughters turn in solid performances. And both deliver a city-dwelling kid-centric outlook on the events as they unfold. Lyana Halley is ideal as the cantankerous but emotionally troubled older daughter, while Leah Jeffries channels the spirit of the city kid thrust into the ultimate survival situation. The familial unit works well under the circumstances, despite the clunky dialogue. But all that goes out of the window when the apex predator comes calling!
The best movies of this genre have achieved success by harnessing the brilliance of their apex predator. For example, The Ghost and the Darkness presented its lions as the devil of the plains. Ghost-like entities hiding in the tall grass and ready to strike at any time. And I’m pleased to report that Baltasar Kormákur presents his animal antagonist in a chilling, visceral fashion. This apex predator isn’t taking any prisoners. And where The Ghost and the Darkness pulled its punches in its depiction of the lions’ primal savagery; Beast embraces it with open arms. And the results are gruesome, savage, and entirely realistic. If you were hoping to see a huge lion charging in at full speed and ripping people to shreds, you’re in for a real treat. Just be ready to grip the arm of your seat!
To help bring his movie home, Baltasar Kormákur has called upon the services of the best contemporary visual effects. And the results are spectacular. In its use of its impressive CGI animal effects, Beast does for lions what The Shallows did for Sharks. And presents them in an utterly realistic and terrifying sense. The creature’s bulk and chilling scale are captured in minute detail, even down to the saliva dripping from its blood-soaked jaws. And as the wind blows across the plains, the hair on its mane flutters with realistic perfection.
On hand to deliver a suitably intense soundtrack is the always-reliable Steven Price. Following on from his work on Suicide Squad, Price injects Beast with an intense and weighted score that compliments the gruesome images we see on the screen. The music heightens the tension in all the right places leaving us on the edge of our seats from start to finish. And I, for one, cannot wait to download the score and add it to my collection.
All things considered, Beast is a solid, yet flawed late-summer thriller. Idris Elba delivers a standout performance and the strong message of anti-poaching is as tangible as the tension. Philippe Rousselot’s stunning cinematography whisks us away on a whirlwind trip around the African countryside and delivers some truly breathtaking landscapes. The impressive visual effects used to create the rogue lion helps to stick the landing and deliver a truly intense and nail-biting little sleeper. And even though the dialogue is often inane and the plot stumbles clumsily along; it doesn’t take anything away from a thrilling 90 minutes and change.
I went in hoping for a solid movie in the same vein as The Ghost and the Darkness. Instead, I was thrust into a rollercoaster ride of visceral, primal brutality where Idris Elba came to blows with Africa’s apex predator. And that alone is worth the price of admission!
Beast is distributed by Universal Pictures and is playing in UK cinemas from Friday.
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!