The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - BEAST | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - BEAST

beast review
A family trip to South Africa turns to terror with a rogue lion on a killing spree.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur

Starring: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries

beast poster

With movies like The Deep, Everest and Adrift under his belt in recent years, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur seems to have become the go-to guy for true stories of people surviving against nature and the elements. His latest, Beast, is another survival thriller, but it's as detached from reality as you could imagine. An entry in the "Animal Attacks" sub-genre, Beast is the sort of movie that usually now goes straight to VOD with Nicolas Cage or Megan Fox in the lead, so it feels odd to watch its man vs nature antics play out on a cinema screen. There was a time when cinemas were filled with these movies. That time was in the years following the success of Jaws, when Hollywood, and often Italy, was churning out thrillers featuring people getting chewed and clawed by every creature that made its way onto Noah's ark.

A checklist of clichés quickly emerged in the sub-genre, and much of the fun of those movies came in seeing how filmmakers would apply such stereotypes. Beast has some of the clichés we expect from a movie of its type, but it's sorely missing one of the most important tropes of the Animal Attacks movie – the Asshole. The Asshole is the character who is so unlikable the audience actively roots for their comeuppance, and any Animal Attacks movie worth its salt will have a final act payoff where said character is subjected to a particularly brutal onscreen death at the hands, or rather paws, of the animal antagonist. My personal favourite Asshole is the one played by a wildly over-the-top Leslie Neilsen in William Girdler's Day of the Animals, which along with the same director's Grizzly, is arguably the best of the Jaws cash-ins.

beast review

Sharlto Copley is in Beast, and once you see his name in the credits you immediately assume he's the Asshole. But no, contrary to most of the characters the South African star has played recently, here Copley is a thoroughly nice guy. He's Martin, a park ranger in a South African reserve populated by several lion prides. He describes himself as an "enforcer", hinting that he's had to take violent action against the poachers who have been killing the local lions. We see a group of such poachers gun down a pride in the film's surprisingly gruesome prologue, where one male lion escapes to embark on the rampage that will fuel the movie's narrative.

Finding themselves on the lion's potential dinner plate are visiting American doctor Nate (Idris Elba) and his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and her little sister Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries). Movies like this often adopt the cliché of the estranged couple who bond over the course of their ordeal. Here this is given a twist, with Nate struggling in his relationship with his girls. Just before she succumbed to a fatal illness, Nate walked out on their South African born mother, and Meredith in particular has been making her old man feel guilty ever since. This subplot feels obligatory rather than natural, and it's often brought up at the most inopportune moments.

beast review

Much of the movie sees Nate and his kids trapped in a jeep ala Cujo, as the angry lion lurks outside. Martin suggests that, like the shark in Jaws IV: The Revenge, this lion holds a personal grudge against humans over the death of his family. It's a throwaway line that plunges what has up to that point been a relatively grounded film into the realm of schlock, but Beast never gets as schlocky as it really needs to be. It's a film that's shockingly grim in parts, with Kormákur's camera lingering over the torn apart corpses of native women (one of whom is pregnant, just to make it that bit nastier) and children, so whenever the sillier elements enter the picture they're particularly jarring.

Kormákur struggles to mine tension from what should be a nail-biting scenario. We never feel like Nate and his girls are in any real peril as they keep leaving the safety of the jeep to go wandering off for some contrived reason or another, and the lion doesn't seem all that bothered about taking advantage of their devil may care attitude. Kormákur makes heavy use of a steadicam, with most of the movie's scenes playing out in long unbroken takes. I imagine the intention is to dazzle us with technique, but it just results in the camera spending too much time following the protagonists rather than establishing their environment. This makes it difficult to get a geographical grasp of where the characters and the lion are in physical relation to one another at any given point. The CG lion is relatively convincing in wide shots but in close-ups it's a little too reminiscent of the recent Lion King remake. The more we see of it the more artificial, and thus less threatening, it becomes.

beast review

Making the central family African-American doesn't paint over the queasiness of being asked to care about middle class Western protagonists while disposable natives are being ripped to shreds in the background. We've seen Elba perform with a South African accent in the past, so I'm not sure why his character couldn't have been a native of the country rather than a wealthy foreigner. Ditto the closest the film has to human villains in a group of poachers. Sure, poaching is horrible but it's often done by desperate people who have no other way of feeding their families, so we can't enjoy watching the poachers get what the film sees as their comeuppance. This could have been easily fixed at the script stage by changing these characters from native poachers to rich western hunters, like those American dentists who hang photos of themselves standing over an animal corpse in their surgery waiting rooms. Now that's what I call an Asshole.

 is in UK/ROI cinemas from August 26th.

2022 movie reviews