Beast review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Beast is a movie that promises one thing and does it so well. Within all the marketing are Idris Elba and a tiger, all posters and trailers pointing to the two of them clashing in the African wilderness. If that’s all you’re looking for, this stellar picture knows precisely what it’s trying to be and puts in just enough grunt work to make an enjoyable thrill ride. While it has the staging of a B-movie, it also has the gumption to make the scenario believable and free of easy absurdity.
Elba plays Nate, a man with a conflicted past that he’s trying to fix. He divorced his wife at the worst time, as she later died from cancer. Feeling guilty for not being more present, he tries to mend the relationship with his two daughters. He’s hoping a trip to South Africa around his familiar territory with a familiar friend, Martin (Sharlto Copley), will heal some old wounds. It doesn’t go as smoothly as Nate had hoped, but Nate’s wife’s stories and admiring the African wildlife’s wonders seem to please his daughters.
A tour turns deadly when Martin suspects danger. He arrives at a nearby village where the entire population has been brutally massacred. They later discover that a lion is behind all this bloodshed, far different from the friendlier yet defensive lions that Nate and his daughters saw earlier. This lone lion has been separated from his pack after poachers killed them off. With nothing to lose, the lion goes on a killing spree with Nate and his family as prime targets.
There are a lot of incredible sights to witness in the South African setting, but the real meat of the picture is watching Elba defend his friend and family from a monstrous lion. There’s a daring chase as the lion mounts the vehicle and sends the car crashing. There’s an intense scurry through a swamp as night falls and the lion stalks, with Elba trying to remain covert. Poachers throw a wrench into the survival, and things start getting hairy once the crashed car starts tipping. Eventually, Nate realizes he can’t run for much longer and directly challenges the lion in a brutal showdown as the sunrises.
This type of survival horror has slowly been coming back into fashion, with modern movies like The Shallow and Crawl creeping into cinemas. While not precisely the most biting of horror, it’s still an entertaining romp for the competency at play. There was a time when creature features such as these were cheap and goofy movies, where a premise such as this would either lead to awkward acts with a real lion or ridiculous scenes with somebody in a fur costume. The CGI visual effects are so competent here that there’s rarely a moment that takes you out of the thrills of watching a lion try to claw its way into a jeep to feast on the humans inside.
A negative criticism of this film might be that it offers little outside the allure of Elba versus the lion, as the haunting elements of the past are only minorly explored. But, hey, if you’re going to make a film about such a simple idea, it might as well be done right and carry some explosive thrills. And, wow, director Baltasar Kormákur delivers on that here with a violent and exciting romp of pitting man against nature. I didn’t come for some great contemplation on man’s encroaching nature into the wilderness or the decay brought forth by poachers. I came to watch Elba take on a lion with a knife, and I got that thrilling sight.