Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Baltasar Kormákur
After getting stuck on a South African safari, a father (Idris Elba) must protect his two daughters (Leah Jeffries, Iyana Halley) from a powerful lion separated from its pride.
“If you go out there, it’s you vs him, and that is not a fight you are designed to win” Dr Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) is told by old friend and gamekeeper Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley). The two, alongside Nate’s teenage daughters Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Meredith (Iyana Halley) have been exploring the South African plains on a safari – the girls exploring the homeland of their recently-passed mother. It’s made to seem that the experience may be hoped for to bring the family closer together, with the relationship between Nate and Norah being particularly distant and occasionally tense. Well, what better bonding exercise is there than facing a savage predatory lion separated from its pride?
Beast’s opening scene follows a group of poachers shooting all but one member of a pride. Instead of being scared away, however, the lion appears determined to protect its own land, attacking and killing anyone who dares get in its way – including residents of a peaceful village nearby. After a quick escape from the creature the van the central four figures have been travelling in crashes and breaks down, leaving them stranded in the almost endless plains with night drawing in.
If you’ve seen the trailer you kind of know what you’re going to get from Beast, and it certainly provides that. There’s a decent amount of well-sustained action and threat placed throughout without things becoming too repetitive, as could so easily happen in a narrative such as this. Director Baltasar Kormákur plays around with a number of tracking shots to push the real-time feel of a number of events, putting you both more in line with the characters and also hiding the lion amongst the grass and wildlife for extended periods of time.
While some idea presented may work slightly better than others, particularly a sequence involving an interaction with poachers, there’s a generally good flow to the film overall, again thanks to the feeling of a lack of repetition. Perhaps the attempts at more emotional grabs may present more recognisable conventions, alongside not being the most successful element amongst everything else that the film presents, but as a whole the action works well enough to provide engaging tension, and one or two occasional jumps, to not lose the viewer. Even when we reach the heights of Idris Elba: Lion Puncher – there’s somewhat little close-up action with the lion as a whole over the course of the largely well-fitting 93 minute run-time – things still manage to lean more towards the side of entertainment from the action rather than the potentially ridiculous (unlike in The Meg – a rather different film admittedly – which walked both lines as it became Jason Statham: Shark Puncher, if not from the concept alone).
But, in the case of Beast, there’s central tension lined throughout the film. Yes, it arrives in short bursts, but the fact that it still manages to arrive is testament to the film and the way that its narrative pans out and the scenarios the characters find themselves in, especially when largely confined to one small patch of land. There’s enough to be caught up in throughout the film to warrant viewing. It travels along its course and through its run-time rather well, keeping you engaged in the fight for survival thanks to the different elements it throws in at each stage as the lion retreats and comes back seemingly stronger – there is one particular moment where you think ‘it shouldn’t have survived that’. The infrequency of such points, and the general consistency of the pacing, helps hold things up and stops them from circling back and feeling over-familiar to the point of being dull. Perhaps the best way to describe it is indeed: Idris Elba punches an (albeit CGI) lion.
Filling its run-time rather well thanks to avoiding repetition there’s enough within Beast to keep things engaging. Short bursts spring up every now and then as things are kept moving along, you generally know what you’re going to get and the film provides that rather well within its various sequences.