“Beast” makes no bones about its prevalent themes: man versus nature and survival of the fittest.
There are additional motifs, such as love, regret, fear and greed – but make no mistake about this movie’s main mission: To scare the daylights out of its main characters and spectators, even if doing so requires suspension of disbelief.
Right out of the gate, we’re transported somewhere amid Africa’s outback, where poachers – illegal hunters – take aim at a pride of lions.
Meanwhile, Idris Elba stars as an American doctor and widower named Nate, who seeks a getaway and ventures with his teen daughters (Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley) to a South African game reserve. That’s where a wildlife biologist and friend with the rugged surname Battles (Sharlto Copley) resides.
The host’s homestead lacks WiFi and phone reception, a fact that disappoints the younger sister: “This is so back-in-the-day.”
When Battles and his guests visit a village only to discover victims of an ambush, the nightmare has just begun.
Before long, our good doctor tends to a wounded man in their vehicle’s path, until a ferocious rogue lion – survivor of the aforementioned poaching onslaught – surveys the scene with revenge in mind.
The rampaging creature confronts Battles before targeting the vehicle in which the family members are sitting ducks. Otherwise, there isn’t much in the way of plot.
Ryan Engle’s script branches out with tidbits, foremost being the eldest daughter is a photographer, just like her late mother. The engaging screenplay also gives a fair share of consideration to the animals’ mindset, particularly in comparison to that of the gun-slinging predators.
Icelandic filmmaker Batasar Kormakur, best-known behind the lens for his 2012 drama “The Deep,” demonstrates flashes of brilliance – most notably with a brief but jolting dream sequence that appears to seal his daughters’ fate. Ethereal flashback sequences surface as well.
In general, the so-called advancement in special effects is illusory; creatures’ stop-motion images of decades ago have merely morphed into fake flexibility. In turn, despite some impressive angles of the lion’s mouth – not unlike the shark’s in “Jaws” – most attacks herein are hard to swallow.
Elba, as he proved in the likes of “The Suicide Squad” and “Molly’s Game,” reportedly has been considered to portray the next reincarnation of James Bond – and such speculation is justified. Whether sternly communicating via walkie-talkie or articulating medical instructions, the actor comes across as dialed-in and authentic.
Copley, another consummate pro, is an ideal comrade.
Proficient and efficient, “Beast” stampedes to the finish line in 90 minutes. (By contrast, the 2005 revival of “King Kong” weighed in at 3 hours and 20 minutes.)
The brutal climax of “Beast” – its mane event, if you will – strains the bounds of credibility. We understand the hero’s strategy, which relates to the “law of the jungle,” but actually believing what transpires is another story.