'Beast' review: Idris Elba squares off with a vicious lion in stupid fun thriller
Courtesy of Universal
If the James Bond gig doesn’t work out, Idris Elba can square off against carnivorous predators for the rest of his career. At least if they continue to be as fun as Baltasar Kormakur’s insanely grungy, B-movie hoedown “Beast” in which Elba goes toe-to-toe with a vicious, angry lion on the prowl for flesh. Lots of it. “Beast” couldn’t arrive at a more opportune time on the scarce August release calendar where movies usually go to die. Props to Universal for noticing the major hole in the schedule and plugging in a lean and mindless 90-minute thriller where the only brain capacity one must entice is whether or not this lion can sustain itself against a chiseled Elba doing anything to protect his family.
Kormakur directs the hell out of “Beast,” which incorporates a variety of slick tracking shots and oners that builds tension organically rather than forcing it. Like “Jaws,” we know something deadly is lurking in the water (in this case, the weeds). It’s what you can’t see that’s dangerous. “Beast” is a simple, survivalist thriller with no agenda other than entertaining those brief few who still show up for original genre fare. The most recent example that comes to mind is “Crawl,” a no bull-shit creature feature with a hankering for carnage and just enough of a “plot” to keep the stakes interesting.
For “Beast,” Elba must stay alive long enough and the performance conveys the severity of his situation. He plays Dr. Nate Samuels, a widowed father taking a much needed South African vacation, visiting an old pal/wildlife biologist Martin (Sharlto Copley) with his two daughters Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Mer (Iyana Halley) when the unthinkable happens and a severely aggravated lion begins stalking and eventually attacking them.
Credit to Ryan Engle’s grounded and effectively loose script that doesn’t waste time on silly exposition or intense character motivations. Yeah, there’s brief asides about an underground group called “Anti-Poachers” (people who murder poachers) and Nate’s friction with his two daughters can be undercooked, but the main attraction (and all anyone is here to see) is the lion showdown, which, unlike Liam Neeson’s “The Gray,” actually shows us the final, bloody brawl.
Of course it’s cartoonish and might not make actual, logistical sense, but it’s still a blast. Not to mention the VFX and CGI were quite impressive, putting to shame a recent film: “The Call of the Wild” (which had a pricer budget) that couldn’t even replicate the feeling of a real dog. Elba is often second billed or part of a larger ensemble, rarely carrying a movie on his shoulders, as is the case with “Hobbs & Shaw,” “Suicide Squad” or “The Mountain Between Us.” And “Beast” showcases why the actor deserves more star-driven, commercial vehicles. Barbara Broccoli, are you listening?
BEAST is now playing in theaters.