It comes every two or so years where a stripped down thriller pits one actor against one deadly animals. Liam Neeson against wolves in The Grey, Leonardo DiCaprio against a bear in The Revenant, Blake Lively against a shark in The Shallows, Kaya Scodelario against a crocodile in Crawl. Now we have Idris Elba against a big angry lion in Beast.
The outline is simple, American doctor Nate and his two daughters Norah and Meredith travel to South Africa to see their friend Martin and connect with their deceased mother’s village. While out for the day a huge lion attacks their truck and begins stalking them. Nate is forced to reconcile his broken relationship with his daughters and the king of the jungle that seeks to take him out.
Baltasar Kormakur is a director who knows how to tell a survival story, true life disasters like Everest and Adrift have shown his ability to weave these stories of the human desire to get out of extreme situations have garnered strong box office and good reviews. He’s also able to handle good action fun like 2 Guns. Both of these elements are on show in Beast.
The set up is basic, dead mum leaves two girls angry at their father’s absence and when a lion tries to kill then, he’ll have to step up and admit he failed. This would be a basic, fairly cliche move if it weren’t for Idris Elba in the role. He’s such a likeable actor, with a burning intensity that when he’s jovial at the beginning you immediately like him and when it’s time for him to throw down with a big lion you buy into the rage.
The film is full of jump scares, and long takes, Kormakur is able to build tension well, executing classic moments of tension and throw-your-popcorn “gotcha” moments. Despite the limits of CGI sometimes showing that they – rather naturally – don’t have an actual lion at their disposal, it’s fair to say that when it matters the effects and the actors come together well.
While not a message film there is a point made about poaching, and the trade for animals increasing. Not only game hunters but professionals who wipe out entire prides for fur, meat, teeth and now bones all to sell on the black market. The film might be about the simple pleasure of watching a mighty animal get punched in the face by an A-list actor – and when they occurs you will cheer – but it also reminds us, like the other films mentioned, that this is nature and we are ultimately at it’s mercy.
If this is to continue as a trend, with a different actor facing off against an angry animal each time, then whatever comes next has to carry this film’s sense of “oh go on then” fun for the third act fight. This is not groundbreaking, but as a display of taught direction and a fantastically compelling lead performance, Beast is a crowd pleaser at the tail end of a fairly disappointing summer.