Beast: Unleash the Beast, Save the Pack

(from left) Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Nathan (Idris Elba) in Beast, directed by Baltasar Korm?kur.

Idris Elba vs. a Lion. 

Do you need more to peak your interest in Beast? By taking one of Hollywood?s best current actors and asking him to engage in a fight to the death with a wild animal, one would hope that the result would be entertaining.

And, even though there’s not much more to the film, thankfully they?d be right.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, Beast tells the story of Dr. Nate Daniels (Elba), a recently widowed father who returns to South Africa on a vacation to help him reconnect with his two daughters. Arriving at a game reserve directed by Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), the family embarks on a journey to see wildlife in its natural habitat. But when they discover a village that has been attacked by a mysterious beast, Daniels and his family begin a battle to survive the attacks of a blood-thirsty lion who is out for vengeance.

While Beast may follow many of the tropes of other survivalist dramas, that doesn?t mean that it isn?t a solid thriller and surprisingly engaging affair. Admittedly, the film?s premise and script are almost as simple as stated earlier? yet Kormakur manages to squeeze every last drop of intensity from the film. After all, while Beast may speak to the damage created by poachers, the real appeal here is the battle against the lion itself.

Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels in Beast, directed by Baltasar Korm?kur.

Tightly executed, Beast draws the viewer in with some marvelous cinematography and camera movement. By his extensive use of long takes, Kormakur makes the camera feel as though it?s stalking Elba as he weaves in and out of danger. At the same time, through its collection of medium and close-up shots, Beast draws the viewer into the middle of the battle. (Without giving any spoilers, the scene under the jeep is particularly well-orchestrated.)  These simple techniques manage to elevate the set pieces in ways that set it apart for more standard examples of the genre. What?s more, clocking in at only 93 minutes (!), the film doesn?t overstay its welcome. By keeping the runtime brief, Kormakur allows the action to tell the story without too many prolonged scenes of exposition or unnecessary dialogue. 

In essence, he wants you to feel the story.

Credit must also be given to Elba as well, who evades the vicious beast with surprising enthusiasm. While he doesn?t have a lot of dialogue-heavy moments, Elba runs, rolls and battles his CGI foe with energy and interest. In fact, he almost feels like he?s enjoying his time in the film. As such, Beast?s commitment to the premise and energy gives life to the project, making it more fun to watch than expected. (If anything, one of the more disappointing performances within the film is Copley who is given very little to do and doesn?t feel as engaged.)

At its heart, Beast wants to explore the importance of protecting your pack. Having lost his wife to cancer, Nate is struggling to keep his family together. By making the trip to South Africa, he is hopeful that reconnect with his heritage?and his kids. However, similar to the rogue lion himself, Elba is a man in search for the next chapter of his life as he grapples with the pain of loss. 

In this battle, the line between man and beast are blurred. But they are, of course, different.

(from left) Nathan (Idris Elba), Martin (Sharlto Copley), Mare (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) in Beast, directed by Baltasar Korm?kur.

While the lion seems to be looking for revenge out of his grief, Elba searches for hope. Whereas the beast fights for pride, Elba does to protect. Interestingly here, Beast acknowledges that protection of the pack is not only one person?s job. Mirroring the effectiveness of other prides, each member of Elba?s family are committed to helping each other. In this way, the film avoids the trope of ?one man saving the world? and reminds the viewer that everyone has a role to play in keeping the pack together.

While one cannot say that Beast is the best example of the survival genre, one also can?t deny that it?s not entertaining. With fun camerawork and lively performances, Kormakur and his team have created something that has a surprising amount of bite.

Beast is available in theatres on Friday, August 19, 2022

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