Back in 2018 a lot of people laughed when it was announced that a movie was to be released that was basically action hero Jason Staham versus a big shark. Much to the surprise of those that laughed The Meg turned out to be fun, and more than okay, kind of film. Well now Hollywood is set to take on the animal kingdom once again with Idris Elba (The Losers) facing up to the king of the jungle – a rogue lion.
Actually Beast goes a lot deeper than that. It centres around Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba) a gifted doctor who has found himself on the outer with his two daughters – Norah (Leah Jeffries – Rel) and Meredith (Iyana Halley – Liquorice Pizza) – after he separated from their mother shortly before she passed away from cancer.
In a bid to repair the relationship with his daughters, and at time tell his side of the story, Nate flies the family to South Africa so they can re-trace the steps the mother took early in her life. Meredith also hopes to learn more about her mother’s photography career, something she wants to emulate despite the fact she doesn’t feel supported by her father.
The trip takes a turn for the worst though when family friend, Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley – District 9), takes them on safari and they soon find themselves in a life-threatening battle against a blood-thirsty lion determined to get revenge on all humans after his pride is illegally killed by a group of poachers.
As a film the plot, which comes from a screenplay written by Ryan Engle (Non-Stop), is pretty basic but it is what director Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns) does with that story is something really special. He takes what is very simple and turns into something so creative the audience feels like they have just watched something very different to the popcorn movie the film actually is.
A lot of that starts with Engle’s screenplay. Many of these thrillers would have just became a clichéd film that was just action scene after action scene. Instead Engle’s script allows the film to delve heavily into a fractured family, so much so that a lot of the tension that surfaces early on the film comes from the battles we see between father and daughters. Throwing a rogue lion into the mix just feels like it is stirring the plot even more.
Likewise it feels like somebody forgot to tell Kormakur that he was making a basic popcorn thriller. Instead of sticking to the clichés Kormakur teams up with his two cinematographers and infuses the movie with long, lingering camera shots that would normally be reserved for a much more artistic film. The result of using those shots though means that for a majority of the film the audience feels like they are right there alongside the characters as they battle for their lives. Credit must be paid to Kormakur for making the brave decision to include those shots because it raises the suspense level tenfold.
Also enhancing this film is the fact that the filmmakers made the decision to shoot the film in South Africa. So often these days films are shot with green scenes and while directors like to think otherwise you can always tell when a scene has been shot that way and the result is the audience is removed from the film because of its fakeness. The team here use the South African savannah incredibly well and that just adds to the natural feel. Given that even the CGI lion looks natural and fearsome and you can easily see why this film is such an enjoyable journey for its audience.
Acting wise Elba does what he needs to do throughout this film but it feels like Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley are the most impressive here. Both seem to deliver throughout the film no matter whether they are in an action sequence or dramatic emotional scene. Also impressive here is Sharlto Copley who puts in a great performance and remind everyone why we need to see him on the big screen more often.
Beast is a lot better film then it should be. With what could be described as a B-Grade plot Beast becomes an impressive, heart-stopping thriller. It makes some important comments about poaching and its impact on wildlife while also capturing the emotions of a fractured family. If you are looking for a film to entertain you then you could do a lot worse than Beast.