Baltasar Kormákur’s new film “Beast” is a simple but fairly competent survival thriller drama. Although I wish it had a bit more fun and excitement besides having more substance in terms of story and character, the movie has some tense moments to be appreciated, and it is also held well together by the strong presence of its charismatic lead actor.
Idris Elba, a British actor who has steadily been reliable and interesting since his breakout turn in HBO TV series in “The Wire”, plays Dr. Nate Samuels, who recently became a widower and has tried to handle his rather estranged relationship with his two young daughters. For getting closer to them again, Samuels brings his daughters to a rural area of South Africa, and they are soon greeted by Samuels’ old friend Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), who was also close to Samuels’ wife and gladly shows her photographs to Samuel’s daughters.
As Samuel and his daughters spend their first night in Battles’ place, we get to know a bit more about the ongoing estrangement between him and his daughters. Although they love their father, Samuels’ daughters still feel hurt by their mother’s sudden illness and her following death, and, in addition to missing her a lot, Samuels feels quite guilty because he happened to be separated from his wife right before she became ill.
On the next morning, Battles, who is incidentally the manager of a nearby wild animal reserve, takes the Samuels inside the reserve, and the mood becomes more brightened as they enjoy the sights of a number of different wild animals living there. At one point, Battles shows the Samuels a lion pride which has been under his care and protection for years, and we see how much he has been close to those pack of lions.
However, the pleasant mood surrounding them is soon disrupted when they go to a nearby village, where Samuels and Battles discover something quite alarming. As already shown to us from the very first scene, there is a very dangerous rogue lion somewhere in the reserve, and we later come to gather that this lion becomes quite angry and ruthless about human beings for a good reason.
Once they discern how dangerous the situation is, Samuels and Battles quickly leave along with Samuels’ daughters, but, of course, they soon find themselves in a big trouble. With their vehicle unfortunately stuck in a tree, they are virtually trapped on the spot, and they naturally become the latest targets of that murderous lion.
I must point out that the lion in the film does not look that real like those lions in “The Lion King” (2019), but Kormákur and his crew members including Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot try their best for making the urgent circumstance surrounding the main characters of the film look as realistic as possible. The camera fluidly moves even when it is inside the vehicle along with the main characters, and Kormákur and editor Jay Rabinowitz thankfully do not resort to choppy editing during several intense scenes including the one where Samuels must evade the lion while hiding under the vehicle.
As he fights for his and his dear daughters’ survival, Samuels comes to bond more with them, but the screenplay by Ryan Engle, which is based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, does not develop their personal drama enough to engage us. While Samuels is mostly defined by the grief from the loss of his dead wife, his two daughters are more or less than plot elements, and some of their actions along the story feel contrived just for generating more danger and suspense as required.
The last act of the story comes to lose some of what the movie has diligently built up before that point, and that is where our level of our interest is decreased. While it surely gives us what is promised to us via its trailer and promotional poster (You will probably know what I mean), the movie eventually comes to fizzle during its rather convenient finale, and that is one of the main disappointments in the film.
Anyway, Elba dutifully carries the film, and he looks as committed as demanded. Besides ably conveying to us the urgency surrounding his character, he is believable as his plain ordinary character comes to show more courage and strength for saving himself as well as others around him, and I will not be surprised if he subsequently follows the footsteps of Liam Neeson. After all, if he can stand against a big lion, he is surely able to fight against a pack of wolves as Neeson did in “The Grey” (2011), can’t he?
In case of the three main cast members around Elba, they are limited by their thankless roles, but they manage to acquit themselves well. Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries do a little more than being daughters in danger, and Sharlto Copley also has a few good moments including the one where his character must do something drastic for treating a very serious wound.
Overall, “Beast” does not reach to the level of “The Grey” and other entertaining survival drama thriller flicks, but it is not entirely without thrill and entertainment. I am not satisfied enough because it could go further along with its leading actor who deserves better in my humble opinion, but this is something you can casually watch during your spare time, and I will not stop you from doing that.