Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Stars: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries, Chris Langa.
Cujo in the African jungle, albeit with a rogue lion rather than a rabid St Bernard terrorising a family trapped inside their vehicle.
Beast is a cliched B movie that is elevated through the strong presence of Idris Elba. He plays Nate Samuel, a widowed doctor looking to reconnect and bond with his two estranged teenaged daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) during a trip to a game reserve in South Africa. Their guide for the trip is wildlife biologist Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley, from District 9, etc), who was a close friend of Nate’s wife. Martin has spent most of his life raising and tracking the lions in his patch of the savannah.
But then the family come across a village in which all the inhabitants have been mauled by a rampaging lion. The lion is apparently the only survivor of his pride which was attacked and killed by a gang of poachers. As Nate and Martin track the killer lion, Beast also recalls The Ghost And The Darkness, the 1996 film in which Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer hunted a pair of killer lions that were terrorising construction workers building a railway in the jungle. A battle of wits and wills begins as Nate and his family try to survive the marauding lion that seems to have an innate intelligence.
Elba has an assured and strong presence that elevates the cliched material and he adds gravitas to his role.
The script from Ryan Engle (those formulaic Liam Neeson action thrillers like The Commuter, Non-stop, etc) has plenty of the usual cliches that have become a staple of this subgenre of a predator hunting man ever since Jaws made us scared to go back into the water – films like Grizzly (1976), Orca (1977), and even Jurassic Park (1993). Thankfully Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (who has given us survival thrillers like Everest, etc) is a dab hand at ratcheting up the suspense, and he even includes a couple of neatly timed jump scares that bring the flawed concept to life.
The film has been nicely shot on location in South Africa by Oscar winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (A River Runs Through It, etc) and Baltasar Breki Sampar, who do a great job of capturing the natural beauty and stunning vistas of the spectacular landscapes. And they use shadows and light to good effect in creating an ominous mood. Also good are the CGI effects that bring the lion realistically to life and they are seamlessly incorporated into the action.
Beast is B-grade action movie, but it is entertaining enough for the popcorn crowd. Just leave your brain at the door and you’ll have some fun with it.
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