Review: Idris Elba’s Killer Lion Movie “Beast” Has Teeth, Albeit Little Logic

Baltasar Kormákur’s thriller will be worth a watch on Peacock in a few weeks but you may want to skip the theater
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Filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur’s Beast is the latest in a long line of creature features about apex predators, with this one pitting Idris Elba. He portrays a doctor/family man—and yes, that order is accurate—who’s pitted against a rogue lion whose bloodthirsty motivation is a mixture of justifiable revenge and sadistic glee, as evidenced by an opening sequence that teases the carnage to come.

This monster-in-the-dark thriller hails from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, who did a heck of a job with Everest and The Deep. Working from a script from Ryan Engle that tries too hard and admittedly leaves something to be desired, Kormákur has still managed to fashion a fun B-movie that’s undoubtedly a guilty pleasure so long as you don’t think too hard about just its ridiculous premise.

Elba stars as Dr. Nate Samuels—that’s right, he’s a doctor, not a poacher, folks—as he’s taking his two teenage daughters (newcomers Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) to visit the remote African village where their mother, who recently died, grew up. They’re greeted by Nate’s friend, Martin (a rugged if under-used Sharlto Copley), who serves as their local tour guide. That includes a quick stop to visit a pride of lions that open their paws for a big ol’ hug. Martin and his guests are welcome, so long as they respect a certain boundary. This interspecies kinship may indeed serve his party well later on.

Beast
Image via Universal Pictures

Beast

While both Halley and Jeffries acquit themselves well opposite Elba, the script has them focusing too much on the past rather than their present circumstances. Meanwhile, Elba himself feels a little stiff, as if he’s afraid to truly hulk out as Nate because the character knows his children are watching and he doesn’t want to frighten them, even though the stakes are life and death.

Don’t get me wrong, this guy drops fists and tussles with the maned beast of the title—of that, there’s no doubt—but it just seemed like this movie called for the kind of actor who could really cut loose, such as Nicolas Cage or Russell Crowe. I mean, Samuel L. Jackson knew what kind of movie he was in when he made Snakes on a Plane. I’m not so sure Elba got the memo here. But at the end of the day, he’s still Idris Elba, which means he was more than serviceable in the lead.

But hey, you don’t go to a movie like Beast for the script or the drama. You go for the freakin’ lion attacks and let me tell you, they are pretty vicious. Not because the lion is some gigantic CG monster. Kormákur has said in interviews that he wanted the lion to be big, but believably so, which is why its size never appears cartoonish. It is agile and deadly and like the shark in Jaws; this King of the Jungle really seems to enjoy stalking its prey.

Kormákur and cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot do great work capturing the shocking brutality of these attacks—welcome to nature, where there are no rules—even if some of them leave behind an unlikely survivor or two. They also capture some serene moments on the savannah, though that sense of stillness is inevitably spoiled by several jump scares that had folks in my audience hopping out of their seats Then again, there was also a lot of nervous laughter in my screening, so I don’t know how many of my colleagues can be trusted, as I don’t scare easy nor did I feel the need to laugh at the inanity of it all.

Beast
Image via Universal Pictures

Beast

Beast may not be quite as good as The Shallows and Crawl but I do appreciate how it differs from those films, introducing a poacher element that helps us understand why the titular lion is going crazy, and may even provoke sympathy. That’s right, some of you may find yourselves rooting for the lion, but I suppose that’s the fun of it.

It’s not that Nate deserves to be attacked because he’s a lousy father; the message here is how there’s always time to get your act together to show up for your loved one—though the audience is fully aware that our hero is unlikely to escape unscathed. For him and his family, it boils down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kind of like how this movie was dumped in theaters during the dog days of August…

The bottom line is that Beast leaves some meat on the bone and doesn’t quite deliver on the level of its killer cat predecessors to the point where I’d feel comfortable recommending it for theatrical viewing, but it’ll be a solid “watch for free” on a streaming platform in a few weeks. Then again, it’s as dry as the Serengeti in theaters now so if you’re feeling especially parched, Beast may just quench your thirst—especially if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for its mercifully brief 93-minute runtime.

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