If you have ever wanted to see Idris Elba punch a wild lion on the snout, Universal Pictures has got your back. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, Beast stars Elba as Dr Nate Samuels, Sharlto Copley as Martin Battles, Leah Sava Jeffries as Norah Samuels and Iyana Halley as Meredith Samuels. The titular beast, an impressively angered and rogue patriarch, roams a South African game reserve seeking to maul as many humans as it can. Why? Illegal poachers murdered its pride. Crossing path with the Samuels, it spends the last of its days inflicting brutal vengeance on the innocent party.
The Samuels are a family on the edge, (Uncle Martin is practically family), battling their demons after losing Mrs Samuels to cancer. Nate feels intense guilt with not being present in their marriage before her death. Nate, Norah and Merri grieve and express themselves with conflicting coping behaviors.
Beast offers a decent amount of time (approx twenty minutes) building character and telling the Samuels backstory, but there is little payoff ahead as the film embraces the blandest tropes of past spam in the can monster movies. It is not a terrible hour and a half, there are exciting scenes, however Beast is as cookie cutter as it gets for this kind of movie. It is both Jaws (in the long grass) and Cujo, but unable to set itself apart from the classics and show anything new. Suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy this journey.
Beast relies heavily on the South African landscape and sense shattering 7.1 sound to wow the viewer. The game reserve settings are wild, mysterious and isolating. However, the performances (and likely the script’s) attempt to build tension through faux confusion and vague utterances becomes frustrating. More than a few scenes contain dialogue exchanges lacking meaning, extended sequences of, “huh, wha-”, “Dad uh”, “umm guys”, before getting hit with the predictable next attack or challenge the characters must face. None of this would even be a problem either if some adults took their own advice and just stayed in the damn car (again, nothing new here).
Of all the players on screen, Sharlto Copely’s performance is the most natural. He feels like a part of the landscape, like he belongs and his character faces events authoritatively (if not a little too ballsy).
The phrase; “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”, rings true. Considering there are no animals in this film. The menacing lion is a hundred percent animated, along with other animals in various scenes. Digital animation has come so far in 2022 and the product is impressive, with only about ten percent uncanniness to wrestle with. Against the landscape, the lion is almost believable. But it falls apart once human characters are in frame.
Overall, Beast is a good throwaway hour and a half worth of action. We can appreciate it for what it is reaching for, even though it doesn’t quite come out on top of the pile. The film is a solid six out of ten tranq darts.