Sometimes, a movie concept can be tricky to summarize. Other times, it can be as simple as five words: Idris Elba fights a lion. This is the premise of Beast, a new thriller starring Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels. The doctor is a widowed father of two young girls who takes his family on a trip to South Africa, where they soon must fight off a ferocious lion. The story is simple, the pacing is tight, and the movie works. Beast is a lean, mean survival machine that works with its excellent direction and performances.
There’s a certain novelty that movies like this have. It’s a mid-budget old-school thriller not based on any existing IP where you have a few characters in a contained time and place fighting for their lives. This is a 90-minute survival thriller that gets a ton of mileage out of its runtime, giving you the thrills, kills, and chills that a film like this should. This is a creature feature at its core, and it never lets up the suspense and the excitement of its premise. Beast is as exciting as you would want it to be, throwing the characters into the wilderness with no phones and nobody to help.
Jaws had a shark. Crawl had alligators. Beast has a lion. Ryan Engle’s screenplay takes inspiration from the best as we have characters who must fight to survive. It’s a tense, well-written movie that occasionally suffers from characters making stupid decisions but still does plenty with its concept. A big reason the movie works so well is the direction from Baltasar Kormákur, who helms much of the film in long takes. Many scenes in the film feature extended, unbroken shots that do an excellent job of keeping the audience locked into the perspective of the characters.
While Kormákur can be dismissed as a one-trick pony with this style, it is crucial to remember how challenging it must have been to pull off scenes like this. The amount of coordination and blocking that goes into a long take is on full display here, as the characters always feel like they’re alone in this hazardous environment. Furthermore, the focus pullers on this film earned their paycheck for the amount of work they had to do with a style designed to zero the audience in on our characters and their situation.
The film also does a fine job of incorporating family drama into a survival thriller. Early on, the movie establishes the family’s backstory and how the mother’s death has impacted them. The issue is that the older daughter, Meredith (Iyana Halley), feels like a mouthpiece for the screenwriter to verbalize exposition inorganically. Sometimes it feels as though her sole purpose is to state the family’s backstory, but it can feel ham-fisted. There’s a sequence in the third act with phenomenal visual storytelling. Still, it feels like Engle didn’t trust the audience enough, as the following scene features Meredith explaining the setup/payoff.
Despite the exposition and a few scenes where everything feels logically far-fetched, Beast is a nail-biting thriller with 90 minutes of excitement. This is the type of movie you may come across on cable TV late at night, only to find yourself watching the entire thing because it’s that exciting. Elba’s excellent dramatic performance grounds this movie and keeps us watching as we see how they survive. The CGI lion is very impressive, and watching Simba on a rampage is all the popcorn entertainment we need. This movie offers the theatrical experience Prey should have gotten, and it’s a roaring success.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Beast review.