Back when Jaws was first released, there was a torrent of copycats and imitations, whether in the water (Orca – Killer Whale, Pirahna) or animals on the loose (Grizzly). Now we have Beast, a film that would fall into that category if released in the 70s. It does for lions what Jaws did for sharks. Yet this modern-day B-movie adventure is a decent thriller with a simple premise that delivers leanly and has more than a touch of 70s filmmaking.
Dr Nate Daniels is trying to rebuild his relationship with his two daughters, Meredith and Norah, after the death of their mother, by taking them to her hometown of South Africa. Out on safari with his former best friend, Martin, the group come under attack from a violent lion, who is an unstoppable killing machine.
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, whose previous hits include 2 Guns and Everest, has delivered a straight-forward chase thriller that is a fight for survival for those who have never faced anything like this before. What is clever is that this isn’t just a continuous blood bath but takes time to develop relationships and gives the audience enough information about the family’s delicate state.
Nate and his daughters have to cope with the death of a mother and a wife and how the family has fallen apart. Meredith resents her father for not being there, even though he and his wife had separated, and he is determined to pull the group together and make them a family unit once more. Bringing them to her home in South Africa, and allowing the girls to feel connected to their mother’s original life, will hopefully be a bonding exercise for them. Little does Nate know that what is going to bring them together is a killer lion.
Kormákur’s direction style is unusual in a time of fast cuts and shaky camera work. Here we get long scenes with no cuts. When the group first arrives on safari, the single shot goes on for the whole scene, capturing the entire set-up without losing focus and proving that you can keep the interest without hundreds of unnecessary edits. Even though cinema was like this back in the days before the MTV generation, it’s refreshing to see in a modern movie.
If the film does fall short is in the CGI. The lion looks pretty convincing, and you are indeed caught up with the levels of tension and jump scares the movie has to offer. You are slightly distracted by one sequence when a car blows up, and you can clearly see that the flames are from a computer.
The performances are decent, with Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries as the daughters, holding their own alongside Sharlto Copley (famous for District 9) as Martin. Yet the star is Idris Elba, who once again proves he is more than just a tough guy. With his perfect American accent, he shows so many sides to Nate’s character; vulnerable, survivor and longing to be the father he wasn’t, trying to protect his girls from a danger he knows even he cannot stop. It’s a performance of depth, a surprise for a film like this.
Beast will not win any awards and won’t change the face of cinema, but its effective entertainment does what it sets out to do. It thrills while at the same time is compact and doesn’t outstay its welcome (at a brisk 90 minutes).
3 out of 5
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries
Written by: Ryan Engle and (story) Jaime Primark Sullivan
Running Time: 93 mins
Release date: 26th August 2022