The monster movie Beast has three things working in its favor. The first is economical storytelling; at 87 minutes (not including the end credits), it doesn’t waste much time getting to, and through, its action. The second is some beautiful/terrifying shots of the title creature stalking its prey amid the breathtaking landscape of the wilds of South Africa. The third is the presence of star Idris Elba, who brings authenticity to everything he does. Unfortunately, those three things, as important as they are, are no match for silly dialogue and characters so thinly drawn that it is a wonder the screenplay even bothered to give them a backstory. I believe a movie should be judged based mostly on how effective it is at doing what it sets out to do. Beast is a thriller that only intermittently thrills, making it unsuccessful at its main aim.
Nate takes his two daughters to South Africa to visit an old friend, as well as show them where he met their late mother. When they inadvertently enter the territory of a very angry lion, it becomes a desperate struggle to get out alive.
As in a lot of thrillers, basic family trauma is heaved upon them, to give the screenplay an easy shorthand. In this case, it is grief. Nate’s wife died from cancer not too long ago. He feels responsible, oldest daughter Mer blames him and younger daughter Norah just misses her mom. In theory, this horrific experience is meant to bond them closer together. In practice, their story is an excuse for them to have surface level arguments using clunky dialogue in between lion attacks. It comes off as so false. It certainly doesn’t help that the lion’s backstory makes him at least as sympathetic as the heroes, with the added positive that he never talks.
Beast opens with poachers attacking a pride, killing most of its members. One lion escapes and boy is he mad, choosing to take out his own grief on the entire human race. It is interesting that the lion isn’t really the villain here. There are several speeches about how terrible poachers are and if they left the animals alone, the animals would leave people alone. Of course, the “even dangerous animals are innocent creatures” message is somewhat undermined by all the scenes where the lion attempts to eat people who clearly mean it no harm. However, seeing as how this is a monster thriller and not an educational film, this is excusable.
Director Baltasar Kormákur stages some fairly cool sequences where the camera spots the threat before the characters do or swings around to show the audience exactly what they are fleeing from. Much of the story takes place in and around a broken-down car. That should have brought a sense of urgency, forcing the characters to get creative to find a way out. Instead, there is more waiting than there is ingenuity. The characters aren’t given a goal (besides “don’t die”), so the story has a real challenge generating tension. Idris Elba is a talented actor, but there are only so many times he can say “relax and stay put” and make it interesting.
2¼ out of 5
Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels
Iyana Halley as Meredith Samuels
Leah Jeffries as Norah Samuels
Sharlto Copley as Martin Battles
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
Screenplay by Ryan Engle