Beast (2022) – Movie Review
Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
With Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries
A father and his two teenage daughters find themselves chased by a huge rogue lion determined to prove that the savannah has only one apex predator.
Centered on a family scrambling to save their lives against a rogue lion angered and turned aggressive by poachers chasing their pride, anyone who’s ever seen a movie before realizes that the protagonists of The beast will probably be fine.
Despite this, director Baltasar Kormákur (a somewhat underrated filmmaker who once dabbled in survival footage with the most ambitious Everest compared to this streamlined, scaled-down thriller and Icelandic gems such as The oath) conveys an exhilarating sense of danger through visceral brutality (taking advantage of the R-rating to portray disgusting, gnarly wounds) and relentless attacks (usually from clever camera angles that create terror through the speed at which the lion rages across the South African savannah to munch its victims). Convincing CGI (especially when shrouded in darkness) helps.
The thing is, any time a movie can make viewers forget they’re watching something scripted (in this case, the writer is Ryan Engle, basing his work on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan), very probably in favor of the protagonists, buying into Peril a filmmaker did his job properly. The formulas and cliches aren’t inherently bad as long as the execution is busy and hectic to the extent that the characters and stakes feel authentic and meaningful.
Here, Idris Elba is Dr. Nate Samuels, a widowed family man looking to reconnect with his two daughters, Meredith and Norah (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries, respectively), traveling to the village where his mother came from. She died of cancer and teenage Meredith harbors resentment towards her father for being emotionally cold and sucked into his job during this stressful time, saving other lives. In Nate’s words, he thought he had more time. Still distant, Meredith expresses frustrations that he hardly notices about her interest in photography.
The family meets Nate’s longtime friend Martin (Sharlto Copley playing a normal human being for the first time in what seems like forever, also considering one of the film’s most exciting sequences), who takes care of the savannah and is rumored, according to Norah, to be an anti-poacher (someone who kills them). Both girls are immediately more interested in Martin, with Meredith’s photography hobby being recognized more than her father ever was within minutes. Sure, Meredith and Norah complain about the lack of Wi-Fi, but a trip to see friendly lions in the wild accompanies them, as does learning how Martin introduced mom to dad.
The above might sound like a lot of intrigue and characterization for a movie about a family struggling to survive against the circle of life, but the pacing is precise without any grease. Sure, it’s hardly original, but it explains why the family is there and portrays them as likeable (the little set goes well with Idris Elba a highlight as a sincerely regrettable, determined and resourceful man when he s is about the failed survivalist, so warm and jokey with his children), an essential factor that so many survival films seem to forget. There’s also a brief prologue explaining why there’s a rogue lion and condemning the poachers, while demonstrating just how ruthlessly violent the titular beast is without its pride.
The beast is a taut watch of the rogue lion’s wild behavior alone, but there’s plenty of impressive craftsmanship here, too. Primarily, the characters hide inside the Jeep Safari, hoping and praying the lion doesn’t find them and smashing through the windows, providing some appropriately claustrophobic cinematography from Philippe Rousselot. However, the scenes where the characters wander and explore are often done as follow-up shots, with the camera usually shot at Idris Elba in the vein of a third-person adventure video game.
Taking this crowded photograph directly at the figures in the wild, there is a palpable fear of trying to determine the direction of the lion’s inevitable attack. Additionally, the photograph also uses wide-angle shots with the lion nestled in a corner of a cliff somewhere, which is already a great shot but turns into something else suspenseful as the king of the jungle runs towards Nate (who is running towards the camera trying to escape).
Unsurprisingly, the poachers make a second appearance in The beast, but the script wisely doesn’t get too preachy about the obvious. Aside from a moment or two where Meredith keeps verbally attacking her dad for his behavior when mom was sick, even when the lion could pounce at any moment, the family drama is honed to just the crucial beats. This allows Baltasar Kormákur to focus on peril and clever survival scenarios (everything from uniquely administered tranquilizer darts to tree climbing come into play), conveniently with a medic on hand to bandage some nasty injuries that pleasantly double as horribly funny images.
There are moments to praise both man and beast, effectively showing the balance between character and thrill, overcoming the familiarity of experience. Idris Elba also goes into beast mode and punches a lion in the face, which is worth the price of admission itself.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter Where Letter boxor email me at [email protected]