It’s been quite the busy year for Idris Elba. Back in April he voiced a key character in “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”. He co-stars in George Miller’s fever-dream fantasy “Three Thousand Years of Longing” which is set to open next week. And later this year he has “Luther” coming out, a feature film continuation of his popular BBC television series.
And then there’s “Beast”, a survival thriller with plenty of B-movie flavor that sees Elba protecting his two daughters from a ferocious man-eating lion. In many ways it’s a throwback to the many man-versus-beast movies that would pop up on the shelves of my favorite video rental store back in 1980s. But our fascination with these types of movies existed well before that. And while maybe not as prevalent today (with the exception of the endless parade of shark movies), this ‘genre’ has never really gone away. Birds, piranha, alligators, wolves, a Kodiak bear, a wild boar, a rabid St. Bernard, even snakes on a plane – mankind has often found itself at odds (often by their own doing) with our planet’s wildlife.
“Beast” sees Elba teaming with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. They’re working from a screenplay by Ryan Engle which is based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan. Speaking of the story, it’s light in terms of depth and pretty basic when it comes to plot development. But that’s okay for a movie as straightforward as “Beast”. All it needs to do is set the stage, give us characters we care about, and then keep us firmly planted on the edges of our seats. Kormákur hits every one of those marks.
“Beast” is a feral, rip-roaring nail-biter (bad puns absolutely intended) that’s all about giving its audience a taut, immersive experience. There is a touching family dynamic that’s built upon themes of loss, resentment, guilt, and reconciliation. But let’s be honest, most people who go see “Beast” are there to watch Idris Elba go one-on-one with a rabid CGI lion.
Elba plays recently widowed Dr. Nate Samuels who’s taking his two daughters, Mere (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries), on a trip to South Africa to the place where he and their late mom first met. This is an important trip for this struggling family who are not only burdened by grief but also old wounds from their family’s past (which are brought to light within the first act). The three are well written and they possess a good family chemistry, dysfunction and all. Their relationships feel organic in large part thanks to the performances. The sturdy and reliable Elba is as good as always, but so are the two young actresses, Halley and Jeffries.
When they arrive they’re met by Martin (Sharlto Copley), a close family friend who works at a wildlife reserve protecting animals from poachers. After settling in and getting some rest, Martin takes Nate and the two girls on a safari to the far ends of the reserve. But when they stop to visit a local village they make a grisly discovery. Everyone is dead – savagely ripped to shreds by what looks like a lion attack. Realizing how out of the ordinary it is for a lion to attack in such a way and fearing the predator is nearby, Martin gets Nate and the girls back to their truck. But they don’t get far before running headfirst into the bloodthirsty man-eater.
And that pretty much sets up the tension for the entire film. Marooned, with no communication, and with an angry lion on the prowl, Nate must protect his girls and find a way to get them to safety. Along the way there are some unexpected encounters highlighted by several vicious and gnarly attack scenes. And as usual for movies like this, the characters give us a few of those head-scratching moments that have you internally yelling “Close the door!” or “Don’t go out there!”.
Narratively, there is an effort by the story to give purpose to the lion’s attacks which makes it more than just ‘a killer lion killing people’ tale. Visually, the movie looks pretty great, from arid sun-parched surroundings to the digitally animated cats. Kormákur and Oscar-winning DP Philippe Rousselot shoot the film with a visceral style that features numerous long takes and tight tracking shots. It gives certain scenes bite (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and adds to the suspense.
Clocking in at a lean 90 minutes, “Beast” doesn’t outstay its welcome, wrapping up pretty predictably but in a satisfying way. Overall, it’s a movie with a simple premise that’s executed very well technically and narratively. Just know what you’re going in for and don’t expect a ton more than that. Kormákur certainly understands what kind of movie he’s making, And he delivers just the kind of fun B-movie entertainment I was hoping for. “Beast” opens today in theaters.
I see the girl with the fro is the same one who was in that Jordan Peele movie as the evil doppelganger with the creepy voice. I hope her voice isn’t like that in this one. Idris Elba is always a big draw for me. I want to see this one and the other new one he’s in.
Both Idris and the girls give really nice performance. But it’s all about the thrills and this one has it. I liked it quite a bit.
Another yes for me, I do like Mr.Elba.
He’s so good. And this is a lot of fun.
Heimdall vs. a rabid lion. Yeah, Heimdall got this. I’m rooting for my Asgardian warrior.
It’s a lot of fun. Short, savage, and to the point.
If it weren’t Elba I would completely brush this movie off, but because it’s him, I want to see it. I almost went to it tonight, but chose to stay in.
Elba is as good as always. And me, I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of B-movie survival thrillers. This is pretty good one.