TL;DR – It starts strong and has genuinely terrifying moments, but it does not have the legs to make it to the end.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film.
Beast Review –
A long tradition of films can be summed up as ‘an unknowable antagonist hunts down our plucky protagonists’. If we slip into horror, this can be a slasher hunted down kids at a summer camp, dinosaurs running amok in Jurassic Park, or you could flip it, and the unstoppable force is the protagonist as in John Wick. However, one of the more popular scenarios in this realm is animals, and while sharks may have been king for a while, today’s film looks to unseat them with the big cats that roam the savannah.
So to set the scene, it is late a night as a group of poachers stalk through the bush to a trap they have set up. Letting loose a barrage of gunfire, they kill all the lions there, bar one that gets away. The next day, Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) arrive at Mopani Game Reserve in South Africa to spend time with Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), an old friend of Nate and his late wife. Nate is a ranger at Mopani, and in the morning, he gives the group a tour around the preserve, even in the areas the public doesn’t usually see. But when they see a man running out onto the road covered in blood and go to help, they soon realise that there is something out there in the grass coming for them.
Given this is such a small-budget film, it was good to see them spend the money where it worked best. For example, the work bringing the lions to life digitally paid off because there would be no tension in the film if they were not the presence they were. It would have been impossible to film the lion practically, given what they had to do during the runtime, even if you were putting them on green screen and comping it in. Making it a credible threat helps sell those important early parts of the film. I’ll be honest, I jumped once or twice because the movie got me.
The setting also helps sell this narrative because it allows the film to both wow the audience and terrifies it at times. Beast is a film that knows the power of a sunset over the plains of Africa, and you feel its power. Seeing those animals’ power and wonder is a joy to behold. But also, you know that you are very much not at the top of the food chain here if some animals want that to be the case. While poaching is not just a problem in Africa, [it is a global issue], you probably don’t need to worry about any buy-in from the audience because it is a well-known issue. However, focusing on the poachers leads to a problem with the film where you are not sure who you are meant to be barracking for in places.
Beast also does an excellent job setting up an understandably fraught family dynamic from the start. There is a strain between Nate and his eldest daughter that her mother’s passing has ruptured into a chasm. This trip is meant to repair that pain, or at least try, which was a tough job even before the attack. Given what is at stake, I think the cast does a strong job of pulling off what would have been a terrifying experience in real life. Idris is always a solid addition to a film, which does not change here, but Iyana and Leah Sava also step up to the plate. I have to say that the absolute joy of the film was Sharlto Copley, and I wish he were in more things because no matter the role, it always is interesting.
They set this up with some good long takes as we weave through Martin’s house. However, while these long takes work at the start, they are used so often throughout the film that each time you get diminishing returns and by the end, they become frustrating. Unfortunately, that ending is the weakest part of the film, as the narrative runs out of steam somewhere in the second act. Part of this comes from the film revealing its hand too early, and the other comes from moments of survival that undercut the reported menace.
In the end, do we recommend Beast? Look, I don’t think it stuck its landing, and talking to some people after the screening, they were even less enamoured with the film than that. However, when Beast was firing on all cylinders, it was a terrifying delight to watch. If you liked Beast, I would also recommend to you Prey.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Beast
Directed by – Baltasar Kormákur
Story by – Jaime Primak Sullivan
Screenplay by – Ryan Engle
Music by – Steven Price
Cinematography by – Philippe Rousselot
Edited by – Jay Rabinowitz
Production/Distribution Companies – Will Packer Productions, RVK Studios & Universal Pictures.
Starring – Idris Elba, Leah Jeffries, Iyana Halley, Sharlto Copley, Tafara Nyatsanza, Liyabuya Gongo, Martin Munro, Daniel Hadebe, Thapelo Sebogodi, Chris Langa, Mduduzi Mavimbela, Chris Gxalaba, Kazi Khuboni, Ronald Mkwanazi, Naledi Mogadime, Thabo Rametsi & Anzor Alem
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R