Beast (2022)
Beast (2022)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: August 19th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Baltasar Kormakur Actors: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries, Anzor Alem

 


 

“W

e got the whole pride but one.” Evil poachers kill off a group of lions, but they don’t get them all. At the same time, they manage to turn their backs on the lone beast that aims to dispatch them in an act of revenge. Sure enough, the hunter quickly becomes the prey. Into this South African setting comes Nathanial Samuels (Idris Elba) and his two daughters – angsty teenager Meredith (Iyana Halley) and younger, precocious Norah (Leah Jeffries), each reluctantly accompanying their father for this unusual vacation in “the bush,” where they’ll be without the comforts of ice-cold A/C or WiFi.

The trio meets up and stays with longtime friend “Uncle” Martin (Sharlto Copley), whose work as an enforcer for the nearby reserve finds him regularly interacting with the wildlife – as well as poachers, whom he routinely attempts to thwart. The following morning, they embark on a private safari, where they’ll take in some incredible sights along a mostly deserted trail. And, if they’re lucky, perhaps they’ll get to see some lions up close.

The setup is so simple that the film takes a few scenes to detail what the writers hope will be relatable, nuanced, sympathetic traits, by establishing an emotional distance between the father and his children, plagued by misplaced guilt and blame from a marital separation and tragedy. It’s an exceptionally typical familial contention that ultimately doesn’t generate much depth; it’s already easy enough to commiserate with these humans, since they’re the only ones at the forefront. And the result is terribly formulaic bickering and entreaties of composure. The real conflict is, quite obviously, the lion, which decides to turn these hapless sightseers into a scrumptious meal. “It’s the law of the jungle.”

The CG nemesis, as well as a handful of background creatures, aren’t entirely unconvincing, appearing clearly unreal when it comes to precise movements and interactions with the leads. But the terrorizing, rogue lion’s animated characteristics don’t stop it from engaging in onrushes that rival the computer-modeled bear from “The Revenant”; it still boasts genuinely harrowing assaults, especially as the picture borrows notions from “Cujo” when the family becomes trapped inside of a vehicle. During many of these moments, the camerawork amusingly follows people’s faces, concealing the brute’s movements in the areas inches out of frame, allowing for agitation as sneak-attacks grow inevitable.

Just as the locations and scenery are exquisite, even though the bulk of the activity is confined to only a couple of lonely arenas, Copley is entirely believable as a rough-around-the-edges game-warden type. And despite the paper thin plot, Elba also gives a competent performance. Less effective, however, are the two girls, who alternate between being far too gutsy or far too hysterical. Either way, they’re consistently aggravating, doing stupid stuff in the path of a supernaturally smart predator; their decisions are as moronically reckless as the animal is intelligently calculating. It’s to be expected, but it’s no less eye-roll-inducing.

Comparatively, one of the standard horror tropes that doesn’t go far enough is the anticipated return of the poachers, hinting at the fact that humans are often worse than the monsters they combat. But it’s a tiny complication that isn’t nearly as engaging as the family’s primary predicaments, all of which stem from lion ambushes, including being cut off from outside sources of rescue to nursing nasty wounds; unmistakably, it’s the constant, nerve-rattling aggressions from the toothy cat that prove most exciting. Even with few surprises, an unfortunately tidy ending, and largely uninspired scripting, it’s rare to see a theatrical killer animal movie (and rarer still to see one with an A-list star), which makes “Beast” a decent watch (its brief running time is highly appropriate) and a dependably suspenseful exercise in Mother Nature vengefully striking back.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10