Bloody Disgusting’s Beast review is spoiler-free.
Much like 1977’s Orca, Beast begins with a cruel inciting event that births an unrelenting force of revenge that unleashes its wrath upon all those who cross its path. In this case, a lion prowling the African bush after poachers ruthlessly slaughtered its entire pride. The Orca-like setup instantly sways allegiances in the lion’s favor and follows a straightforward formula, but the care put into its characters and propulsive thrills keep you engaged.
Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) brings his two daughters, Mere (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries), to South Africa to visit their late mother’s childhood home. More than just a means of feeling closer to mom after her death, it’s a chance for Nate to reconnect with his daughters. Older daughter Mere harbors feelings of abandonment by dad, while sensitive Norah wants to maintain the peace. The strained family looks to family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley), a wildlife preservationist, to guide them through South Africa and mom’s past. They quickly find themselves stranded and hunted by the rogue lion hellbent on destroying everything in its path.
Written by Ryan Engle from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, Beast wastes no time getting to the eco-survivalist thrills. The central conflict between dad and children sets the narrative down a predictable path, but the survival element provides the tension and surprises. Engle sets up a series of obstacles for the family – and family friend – to work through that breed suspense. Dehydration, no signal, isolation, an almost supernatural force of nature, injuries, and morally corrupt characters thwart the easy road to salvation.
Director Baltasar Kormákur effectively keeps the audience in the present, using tracking shots to heighten the sense of urgency. Kormákur wrings tension out of multiple harrowing encounters, human and lion alike. He makes excellent use of the location, and the animal VFX looks great. The filmmaker also keeps things visually interesting with a constant change of scenery and set pieces.
What works against this is the strange use of dream sequences, employed repeatedly without adding much to the story. It’s a nod to the trauma of losing mom, of course, but contributes nothing other than slowing down the pacing in parts and one lackluster attempt at a scare. While Nate’s medical expertise comes in handy on multiple points, he’s over his head regarding surviving nature and ferocious beasts. It’s exacerbated by a teen daughter prone to making poor decisions befitting of a horror character that leaves you screaming in frustration. Of the central characters, Jeffries’ Norah demonstrates an astuteness and cunning that her older counterparts frequently lack. Norah’s quick thinking saves the day a few times, and she also accurately predicts plot points that get dismissed due to her young age.
Humans, once again, are ultimately responsible for the destruction here, and Beast doesn’t entirely reset the laws of nature or quench the righteous vengeance. The lines of morality get drawn a bit too clearly in the sand, making it clear who’s destined for death and not. But the attempts at B-movie thrills mostly succeed, and the characterization goes farther than expected in keeping you invested. Its anti-poaching messaging remains only surface level, but the performances led by Idris Elba are convincing, and it’s well crafted in its visual storytelling. Beast may not bite as hard as it’d like, but it’s entertaining enough while it lasts.
Beast is playing exclusively in theaters now.