Film Review – Beast
Idris Elba fighting a killer lion.
That’s it. That’s all. Need I say more?
Beast (2022) takes this simple premise and runs full speed with it. This is a B-level actioner that embraces its straightforward approach. Director Baltasar Kormákur (with writers Ryan Engle and Jamie Primak Sullivan) aims to make this nothing more than a thrill ride, and for the most part they accomplish it. Sure, there are character moments that attempt to add an emotional layer to the narrative, but that is less convincing. When boiled down, this is all about people trying to survive against a ruthless predator. This is a creature feature that knows exactly what it is, which is probably its biggest strength.
The inclusion of Elba – an actor of considerable screen presence – helps make the film more captivating than it has any right to be. He plays Nate, a doctor still trying to get over the untimely passing of his ex-wife. To build a connection with his daughters Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Meredith (Iyana Halley), Nate takes them to South Africa on safari. There, they meet up with Nate’s old friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) who acts as a host and guide. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a fun vacation quickly turns deadly when they learn of a rogue lion prowling the nearby area. Not only do they have to avoid the lion’s attacks but must also avoid breaking down in the middle of the wilderness, as well as poachers willing to exploit them for all they’re worth.
And that’s all there is to it. Most of the runtime involves Nate, his kids, and Martin trying to escape to safety as the lion tracks them down. This proves difficult as injuries, lack of food, and other obstacles prevent them from simply driving away. Each set piece is divided episodically, as the characters are presented with a problem to solve. One person gets trapped at a location outside of the truck, and so the others must retrieve them without drawing attention from the lion. Their radios and cell phones don’t work, so they must find an area where they can call for rescue. All the while, the lion is nearby, ready to attack.
In movies such as this one, it’s common for characters to make dumb decisions or bad mistakes. However, the writing and direction amplify this problem. Some of the actions – especially from Norah and Meredith – are so awesomely stupid that we wonder if these are real people. They do the opposite of everything told to them. When Nate tells them to stay in the truck, they immediately jump out and start wondering off. During night scenes, when Nate needs to sneak around quietly, the two draw attention by honking a horn, using walkie talkies, or just yelling out into the darkness. I get that kids (anyone, really) would be petrified in this situation and may act irrationally, but come on. It’s as if they were begging to be eaten.
Luckily, the weaknesses in the character building are offset with some well-made cinematography. The camera work (Philippe Rousselot, Baltasar Breki Samper) captures the landscapes beautifully. There are several smooth, almost elegant one shot takes where the camera follows our characters. When the family arrive at Martin’s home, the camera glides through the rooms and hallways to give a better sense of the location. This style is repeated when they arrive at a village that had been recently attacked. The Steadicam is used to highlight the lion’s path of bloody destruction. The long takes make the attacks feel immediate and intense. When Nate hides underneath their truck while the lion claws and chomps after him, the lack of edits puts us right in the middle of the action. It draws out the suspense – showing how close Nate is to death.
In a weird way, Beast reminds me of a similar – albeit larger budgeted – creature feature, Jurassic Park (1993). The two are different in many, many, many ways, but they share a common thread of a father figure forming a bond with their kids. Where Sam Neill’s character created a natural chemistry with his surrogate children, Nate’s dynamic with his actual children is less believable. The action is separated with scenes of the family hashing out their problems or dream sequences of Nate’s late wife. None of these passes on an emotional level. The relationship Nate has with Norah and Meredith does not feel authentic. Maybe that’s because the two are so underwritten. As much as Nate wants to mend their broken ties, it’s hard to see Norah and Meredith as real people. Their every decision contradicts that notion. It’s difficult to find empathy for characters that lack basic common sense.
In terms of pure kinetic energy, Beast works. In fact, part of me wishes it pushed the envelope a little further. The more ridiculous things got, the more entertaining the film became. This comes to a head in the climactic scene, which is shot and edited so absurdly that it could have substituted as a Gladiator (2000) like duel to the death. Those that go into this will get what they expected – those that aren’t into this type of stuff won’t be seeing it anyway. So, it’s kind of a win win for everybody, isn’t it?