There are three types of conflict that are generally accepted as the driving force in fictional stories. Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Nature. Beast is most assuredly an example of Man vs. Nature. More specifically, it’s Idris Elba vs. a lion. If the thought of Elba punching the king of the jungle in the face appeals to you, Beast is right up your alley.
Elba is Dr. Nate Samuels, a recent widower, who takes his daughters to visit a remote village in South Africa that was his late wife’s birthplace. There’s tension between Nate and his eldest daughter, Mare (Iyana Halley), as he separated from his wife before she got sick with cancer. Mare feels as if her father abandoned them while younger sister, Norah (Leah Jeffries), grows uneasy by their bickering.
Upon arrival, the Samuels family is greeted by old friend Martin (Sharlto Copley), a game warden who introduced Nate to his wife and protects local wildlife from poachers. Those same poachers slaughter a pride of lions and leave only one survivor to seek brutal revenge. After coming across a village with mauled bodies, our protagonists are attacked by the rogue lion with Martin left badly injured.
Beast could easily be pitched as Jaws in the jungle. Thankfully, the film doesn’t demonize the creature nor is it likely people will be reactively hunting scores of lions. The lion in Beast does take things personally just like the shark in Jaws : The Revenge. Yes, the one that tracked down Sheriff Brody’s widow all the way to the Bahamas to exact vengeance.
The screenplay by Ryan Engle (based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan) is straight up B-movie material, but avoids the out-and-out silliness of Anaconda or Placid Lake. Beast is probably closer in spirit to Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, which saw Liam Neeson pitted against a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness.
Beast clocks in at 93 minutes and that includes the end credits. It’s a surprisingly efficient film that keeps things short and simple. The plot is straightforward and it isn’t bogged down by too many subplots or additional characters. Director Baltasar Kormakur is no stranger to directing survival tales (Everest, Adrift) or action movies (Contraband, 2 Guns) and he takes a similarly minimalist approach behind the camera. Kormakur utilizes long takes to great effect in order to craft tense set pieces. His sure hands are on display during the middle of the film where most of the action takes place inside a dilapidated jeep. The audience is dropped into the backseat as the lion strikes in a scene reminiscent of the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park.
The rogue lion is 100% CGI, but the effects are convincing and you’ll wince as its meaty paws claw at Elba. This isn’t a cute and cuddly cat from the original animated Lion King nor is it the emotionless simulacrum from the live-action remake. It almost looks zombie-fied with its pale hide and mangled visage.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Picture is high quality with a rich color palette that leans towards earth tones as well as bright yellows and oranges for the beaming sun.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 7.1. The sound really kicks into gear during the lion attacks and makes good use of the surround system.
Creating the Beast (4:07) looks at the special effects that went into creating the primary antagonist.
Man vs. Lion: The Final Battle (2:57) takes us behind the scenes of creating the climactic confrontation.
Making It Real: The Wounds (4:10) is a featurette that focuses on the make-up used to bring every gash and slash to gory life.
Filming in the Beast’s Territory (5:03) takes us to the northern province of Limpopo in South Africa to show how the crew filmed on location. This includes creating an actual village and watering hole.
Family Bond: The Cast of Beast (6:05) features quick interviews with the main cast as they discuss their characters.
A Lion’s Pride (7:42) is an educational look at the lions and the real-life impact of poaching.
Film Value: 7
Beast has the feel of a late night creature feature, but with a better budget and A-list talent. This Elba vehicle makes the most of its simple premise without overstaying its welcome.