Family drama needs more lion, less dialogue
By Diana Beechener
After their mother’s death, Mer (Iyana Halley: Wayward) and Norah (Leah Jeffries: PawParazzi) feel lost. It doesn’t help that their father, Nate (Idris Elba: Sonic the Hedgehog 2), has been missing in action for the last year of their mother’s life.
Hoping to win his daughters back, Nate arranges a trip to their mother’s home nation of South Africa so the girls can learn more about their family history. It goes well for a while; the girls adore their mother’s village and the animal-laden tour of the reserve that family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley: Russian Doll) takes them on. Overall, it’s a magical journey of learning and healing.
…Or it would be if a rogue lion didn’t rampage through their family trip.
The lion has a grudge—poachers wiped out his pride and he’s decided that all humans must pay as a result. As he tears his way through the reserve, Nate must protect his daughters. Can Nate defeat the lion and bring his family together or is he about to get a bloody lesson in the laws of the jungle?
The real tragedy of Beast is that the lion didn’t get ahold of the script before the actors did. Poor Elba, Copley, and Halley are saddled with some truly awful dialogue and a story that seems pieced together by Ryan Engle (who wrote the underwhelming Rampage as well) in a way that’s both insulting and boring.
It’s also one of those movies where every bit of information you get will come up again because the writer can’t be bothered. If you pay attention to the opening spiel about lions, you’ll get the plot of the movie.
And while Beast takes pains to define “poachers” and “anti-poachers” for you, it doesn’t bother offering any explanation for why Nate left his wife for more than a year, didn’t see his children, and assumed he’d be welcomed back home after his wife recovered. They also don’t explain why the girls don’t know what their mother looked like when she was younger, even though she was a photographer who took many self-portraits. It’s an overly complex story that the filmmakers don’t want to give time to, which is baffling considering they wedged it into a movie that should be about a gigantic lion chasing people.
While the basic film could be described as Cujo with a lion, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that a movie about a troubled family trapped in a car and menaced by lions already exists. The Bridget Moynahan/Peter Weller thriller Prey beat Beast to the box office by nearly 15 years and has many of the same plot points. It’s available to stream.
Animal attack movies tend to work better when the animal in question is a reptile (Lake Placid, Crawl, Anaconda), but Beast does make its leonine threat entertaining. Director Baltasar Kormákur (Trapped) manages to pull the movie out of its nosedive once the lion shows up. Though the animal is obviously a CGI invention, it packs quite the wallop, tearing through poachers, villagers, limbs and just about anything else in its way. The R-rated violence manages to perk up the movie by at least showing how much damage a lion can do. The tension of a looming lion is genuinely heart-pounding, as the family picks its way across the savannah. It’s truly a shame the whole film wasn’t a 90-minute chase.
The real heroes of the film are the actors, who do everything possible to sell the script they’re handed. Elba and Copley are especially fun to watch, as the duo has natural chemistry. The scenes with Martin and Nate bring a bit of humanity to a film that is only using dialogue as placeholders between animal attacks. Still, Elba’s natural charisma keeps the movie from lapsing too long. He’s game for the stunts and has an easy leading man charm that distracts from the clunky story.
A few cool showdowns between man and beast and a lot of wasted charisma and potential are what emerges from Beast. If you’re a fan of lions or animal attack films, Beast is fine fair. I’d recommend waiting for it to hit streaming so you can scroll your phone during the too-long story set-up. Or take my recommendation for another gruesome killer lion story—The Ghost and The Darkness—available on Starz.
Beast is in theaters now.
Fair Animal Attack * R * 93 mins.