Beast as a premise could be as ridiculous as Snakes on a Plane. Idris Elba fighting a lion sells itself as an over-the-top idea in the same vein as Jason Statham fighting a shark in The Meg.
To this writer’s surprise, Beast is an unexpected thrill. Director Baltasar Kormákur is mostly known for throwaway action movies like 2 Guns and Contraband. He also directed the forgettable survival true story Adrift. With Beast, audiences will ask themselves where this director has been hiding.
With all this said, is Beast worth a trip to the theaters? Here is our full review of the man versus nature survival movie starring Idris Elba.
The film centers on Nathan Samuels (Idris Elba), a widowed father who decides to return to South Africa with his daughters after the death of his wife, a native of the country. Nathan hopes the trip will be a brief respite for the family and help his two daughters, Norah and Meredith, heal.
The three stay with a friend of the family named Martin (Sharlto Copley), a local anti-poacher activist and safari expert. Before their arrival, a group of poachers kills an entire pride of lions. But in the wake of the massacre, the poachers do not realize one lion was not killed, and the loner lion begins acting out of character and slaughtering whoever crosses his path. Nathan and his family (including Martin) decide to go on a safari with this dangerous animal in the territory.
What starts out as a fun adventure of discovering wildlife quickly turns violent as they cross paths with victims of the rogue lion. And the intensity is cranked up to eleven once they encounter the beast himself — and we do not mean Idris Elba.
Nature versus nurture
Unlike films like Jaws, where Hollywood tends to overdramatize the depiction of dangerous animals, Beast tries to find a healthy balance of realism and embellishment. As Martin takes Nathan and his family on this new adventure, the audience gets a true sense of the pride Martin feels as he watches the lions he has spent a lifetime nurturing interact. Director Baltasar Kormákur provides a beautiful view of the softer side of lions and their ability to be gentle.
The rogue lion might be a killing machine, but the setup establishes a sympathetic motive for the animal losing control. We as the audience are justifiably scared of the wild animal, but we understand why it is angry. At the same time, some might argue this writing approach of demonizing while sympathizing with a creature of the wild is the movie wanting its cake and eating it, too.
The creature effects are outstanding. There are very few moments where the lion feels artificial, and the CGI is mostly photorealistic. Beast clearly took heavy notes from Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King. Only here, this king of the jungle is not in the mood to sing.
Around the beginning of the film, one of the daughters is wearing a Jurassic Park shirt. The notion felt like a mission statement of sorts from the cast and crew that they were aiming for Jurassic Park’s approach to survival horror. Needless to say, Kormákur’s sense of tension and staging suspense worked wonders. Many scenes had long tracking shots (similar to Children of Men), which heightened the experience. And while it’s not as great as Jurassic Park, the team came close to achieving the same horrific flavor.
A mishap with Beast is its predictability. There have been enough of these films to surmise who might live or die. The choice of having very few characters in the movie plays into this issue. Nevertheless, Beast has enough extreme tension to overcome this small nitpick. Another issue with Beast is its night photography. One issue with digital shooting is that night sequences require more lighting. It could have been a projector issue, but several moments were hard to decipher during the nighttime scenes.
Above all else, Beast delivers exactly what the marketing promises. Back in 2011, Liam Neeson starred in a compelling man versus nature film called The Grey. That film is a timeless work of art and purposely subverts expectations. That said, general audiences were disappointed that the marketing misled them into thinking Neeson would fight a wolf. Beast has no intention of following in The Grey’s footsteps. Idris Elba does indeed fight the lion, and it is gloriously brutal.
Should you watch Beast in theaters?
Beast is a late summer surprise that will keep audiences enthralled from start to finish. The movie delivers on every promise from its marketing and more. Director Baltasar Kormákur has crafted a film that is worthy of the theatrical investment. The audience will scream, applaud, and laugh nervously together. It will not change the game, but it will surpass expectations.
Moreover, the script establishes the characters well and fosters hope they will survive the deadly threat in the jungle. This tense and exciting thrill ride will leave audiences on full adrenaline when the credits roll.
Beast hits theaters everywhere on August 19.