Beast feels like the kind of man vs. beast thriller that belongs in the 1990s era. Even the story — credited to Ryan Engle of The Commuter and Rampage fame — is straight-up old-school stuff. Not to mention this isn’t the first time journeyman Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur helmed a survival drama/thriller, given his past experiences in 2015’s Everest and 2018’s Adrift.
The movie follows Dr Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his teenage daughters (Iyana Halley’s Meredith and Leah Jeffries’ Norah) travel to South Africa, where their late mom grew up somewhere in a rural hometown. From there, they meet their family’s old friend and wildlife biologist Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), who is also served as their tour guide for a safari.
Everything goes well at first until their subsequent stopover in a small village, where they find out every villager has been mauled to death. It doesn’t take long before they learn there’s a rogue male lion attacking humans in its path. What follows next is the battle for survival as Samuels is doing whatever he can to protect his daughters at all costs.
Baltasar Kormákur takes his time setting up the story at the beginning of his movie. Personally, I’m glad he did so because it helps establish the characters and makes us care about their fates later in the movie. And here, we have Idris Elba pulling off a typically engaging performance as the doctor-father, who tries to make things right by reconnecting with his daughters following their mom’s death. Sharlto Copley brings a solid supporting turn as Martin Battles while Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries round up the small-scale cast with their respective performances as Samuels’ daughters.
I was initially worried that Beast is going to suffer from bad CGI lions (the movie also includes a safari scene in the lions’ territory). But thankfully, that isn’t the case here since the CGI looks surprisingly convincing, even though you will find some spotty effects in certain scenes. Kudos also go to Kormákur’s smart decision of utilising a lot of long takes that effectively generate suspense and ominous dread.
I’m also glad the movie is completely devoid of the shaky-cam approach as Kormákur’s clean-cut yet dynamic camerawork allows us to witness the action even during the nighttime scenes. Speaking of action, Kormákur successfully stages a few thrilling moments with the help of Jay Rabinowitz’s crisp editing, notably the scene shot from the inside of a jeep and another one underneath the jeep, where Samuels tries to fend off the ferocious lion attack.
Excluding the end credits, Beast only runs 90 minutes long, which is lean and compact enough for this type of movie. But as much as I enjoy the movie, the climactic third act feels surprisingly underwhelming. It feels as if Kormákur is running out of steam on how to elevate the thrills further. Certainly not the kind of over-the-top thrills, where we see Samuels goes mano-a-mano with the lion (hardly a spoiler territory since the scene is briefly shown in the official full trailer).
Well, it’s nothing wrong with Kormákur wanting to emulate Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s filmmaking style seen in The Revenant (according to Den of Geek, the director even cited the aforementioned movie as one of his cinematic influences in making Beast). To refresh your memory, The Revenant famously featured the visceral scene between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass and a grizzly bear. It was one of the most memorable moments in that acclaimed 2015 movie. But unlike the former, Idris Elba’s Samuels vs. the lion scene sure feels like Kormákur is suddenly heading into the suspension-your-disbelief territory. This is especially true since the lion attack scenes prior to the climactic third act are more grounded by comparison.