I’m enjoying this return to the “movie that will play on TNT for a decade” type of film. They’re quick, fun, and remain something I cling to due to their prominence in the 90s. These were often little thrillers, and popping Idris Elba into one of them is an inspired enough choice that it can carry a film through some of its more shaky parts to a thrilling climax.
Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) has just lost his wife. They were separated and estranged, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t absolutely devastated him. After gathering his girls, ‘Mer’ (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries), he heads to South African Mopani game reserve to stay with his buddy Martin (Sharlto Copley), a game warden/wildlife biologist. The girls are there to see the world their mother comes from, but Dr. Nate is there to flagellate himself for not seeing his wife through their cancer. When Martin stumbles across an entire village that’s been slaughtered by a lion and the group becomes stranded in their vehicle off the beaten path, Dr. Nate will have to pull himself together to protect his friend and his family from a lion hell-bent on revenge.
Yes, the lion is out for vengeance. It is not entirely wrong in doing so.
It’s a rare film that can make me feel total sympathy for what is, ostensibly, the villain of the film. Creature features are especially uninterested in this most of the time, with the crucial element being that this is a wild animal that is simply acting within its own nature (see Crawl and The Shallows). While Beast never makes its titular creature wholly loveable and heroic in its stand against humanity, the opening moments displaying poachers slaughtering the animal’s entire pride (thereby sending it into a blind rage) are quiet and upsetting. The banality with which these poachers shoot each beast down sets a tone, one in which humanity is far too cavalier with nature before it comes roaring back in our faces.
So much rides on these types of films having an obvious statement, an obvious trauma, and the thrill of the horrors they face pushing them through grappling with these things. Most of the time these films are grimy, mean, and part of the fun is how direct and uninterested in being commercially slick they are. Director Baltasar Kormákur is not interested in sticking to the tropes, instead insterting long and tonally inconsistent tracking shots that feel like an obvious attempt to elevate a movie whose whole concept is “how do we get Idris Elba to punch a lion in the face?” Slick, sleek, and not entirely able to capture its core material properly, the film could stand to be less of a pretty package and more of a gritty feature.
Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price has popped in to create a fun little series of tracks that unfortunately sounds a lot like the non-Kendrick-Lamar-produced tracks from Black Panther. It’s a perfectly listenable little series of pieces, but I can’t help but get the feeling that the guy sat down and wrote “I think this is what Africa sounds like” on the top of every page of sheet music. It’s frustrating because there are wonderful little moments that lend the sense that it’s a man wanting to experiment, leaving me wondering if he just held himself back or was restrained from doing so.
Beast isn’t perfect and it lags in the middle, but it’s charming due to its four leads and the ride is gripping once we get stuck out in the game preserve. The final ten minutes are absolutely thrilling, worth the ride and satisfying in a way that feels well-executed from the ground up. Elba gives a moving performance, he’s supported by a solid set of supporters, and this whole thing sprints along so quickly that you’ll barely feel the ninety minute runtime. It’s a blast if you’re willing to engage with it on what it’s trying to do, and I think there’s a crowd that will watch this over and over on streaming once it gets there. For me? I preferred it on the big screen.
Beast is currently in theatres.