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Beast (Film Review)

3 min read
The cast of Beast taking refuge in a 4x4 at night.

Roy Scheider vs Bruce the Shark, Liam Neeson vs wolves, Kaya Scodelario vs alligators. Pitting a movie star against some animalistic has long been a popular genre, and here we have fighting for survival against a monstrous lion in South Africa. This niche sub-genre tends to swing from hair-raisingly serious to thrillingly goofy, but unfortunately Beast fumbles somewhere in between.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) takes his teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) to a game reserve in South Africa after the death of their mother and his ex-wife. They are taken care of by Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), a game warden and old friend of Nate and his ex. Nate's idea is to take the girls out to the village where their mother grew up in an attempt to reconnect them. Their fractured relationship is made loud and clear to us and sets up their arcs before an excursion goes wrong when the titular beast attacks them.

Director Baltasar Kormakur sets up an intriguing style from the first frame, as most scenes unfold through a single long take. At least it's an attempt to make Beast stand out from the crowd but the end result is a double-edged sword. Scenes that build tension towards an explosive set piece with the ravenous lion are effectively tense. The camera sticking close with the characters as dread creeps in – particularly when the beast is quietly lurking out of focus in the background. Other times, however, it feels unnecessary and the artificial stitching of shots together ruins the immersion. 

The main cast of Beast standing in an open savannah
Universal Pictures

What also feels stitched together is the tone of the film. Beast is a film of two halves, with the former being more character focused and grounded, and the latter diving head first into b-movie schlock. The problem is that it doesn't really gel together very well. After setting up such serious stakes and premises, the increasingly ridiculous situations conflict with what is introduced to the audience. Beast should have leaned into the whole movie star fights a deadly animal the marketing promised from the first scene. A character suggests that the killer lion is exacting revenge on humanity for poachers killing their kind with a straight-face. This moment should have cemented the tone in the first act, not towards the end of the film.    

Amongst the messiness there are moments worthy of praise. The VFX for a modestly budgeted film is extremely impressive, with possibly the best on screen digital lion we've seen so far. The chemistry between Nate and his daughters are great at times – when the writing doesn't dampen things and spell out their feelings. And while the final bout is rather disappointing there are a few set pieces that are genuinely thrilling.

Beast is a frustrating watch because it could have swung in one of two ways, an emotional and riveting survival adventure or a highly-entertaining b-movie, but it finds itself stuck in the middle. It's an admirable attempt but audiences who simply want to see Elba duking it out with a lion will be sorely disappointed.     

Beast releases in cinemas on August 26th