Beast Pits Idris Elba Against an Angry Lion
James Jay Edwards reviews Beast, a survival thriller film directed by Baltasar Kormákur, adapted from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, and stars Idris Elba. (Universal Pictures)
In the summer of 1975, Steven Spielberg changed the face of cinematic history with Jaws. His man-versus-nature masterpiece was both a critical and a commercial success, so, naturally, filmmakers have been trying to emulate it ever since. While most of these Jaws ripoffs are, well, just ripoffs, they sure are fun. And into this pile of fun ripoffs is exactly where Beast lands.
(Beast, theatrical release poster, Universal Pictures)
Beast is about a doctor named Nathan Samuels (Idris Elba from Prometheus) who, after the death of his wife, takes his daughters, Meredith (The Hate You Give’s Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries from Rel), on a healing journey to Africa. They hook up with Nate’s old friend, Martin Battles (District 9’s Sharlto Copley), who is a conservationist who works with lions. While Martin is showing the family around, they are attacked by a rogue lion that is as fierce as it is relentless. The humans find themselves in the fight of their lives against the apex predator.
The screenplay for Beast was written by Ryan Engle (Rampage) from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan (Breaking In). The script was brought to screen by director Baltasar Kormákur, who is used to making survival movies, with titles like Adrift and Everest on his resume. But Beast isn’t just a survival story. It’s practically a slasher.
(Beast, Universal Pictures)
The rogue lion antagonist is as ruthless and unstoppable as any masked serial killer. No matter what Nate and his family try (and they try a lot), the lion keeps coming. It shows such determination and resilience in its pursuit of the humans that, from another viewpoint, Beast could be seen as a survival movie about the lion. The monster has clear motivations for its behavior, and even demonstrates some clever planning in his stalking. It’s impressive, but make no mistake, the lion is absolutely the villain in this tale.
Beast also transcends the typical man-versus-nature film by introducing a couple of fairly well-developed subplots that contribute to the story. Nate, who is, remember, a doctor, feels as if he has failed his family by letting his wife die of cancer, so he has something to prove to his daughters (one of whom is resistant to his teachings). And Martin is actively fighting poachers in the area who threaten the well-being of the wildlife, particularly the lions. Both of these sets of circumstances play into the overall plot arc of Beast.
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Beast is also a pretty immersive movie, thanks in no small part to cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (who also shot the Sherlock Holmes and Fantastic Beasts movies). Rousselot’s camera almost becomes another character, following the family around on their adventures in long, handheld single takes that emphasize both the wide openness of the African plains while they’re being hunted as well as the claustrophobia of their automobile while they’re trapped inside being stalked by the lion. Rousselot uses his swinging and swaying lens work to throw the viewer right into the middle of the terror.
(Beast, Universal Pictures)
There’s not much new in Beast, but that’s not the point of it. It is what it is. It’s suspenseful, exhilarating, and downright scary. Sure, the lions are obviously CG creations, and it’s easy to guess where things are going from early on, but if you’ve ever wanted to see Idris Elba punch a freaking lion, it’s your time to shine. Not bad for a ripoff of an almost 50-year-old movie.
Beast is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.