Baltasar Kormákur’s Beast concludes the unofficial “Idris Elba Cat Trilogy” with the mighty roar of a lion. It seems like yesterday he voiced Shere Khan in the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book only to follow it with Cats (the less said about that film, the better). A schlocky, B-movie premise like this immediately makes you think of a SyFy Original Movie, but with Elba at the helm, shouldering a lion’s weight of the project, you somehow know you’re going to be in good hands.
Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels, who is visiting South Africa with his two daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley, Licorice Pizza) and Nora (Leah Sava Jeffries, Rel). The purpose of the trip is to explore the hometown of Nate’s ex-wife and the girls’ mother, who died of cancer shortly after her diagnosis. It’s also an opportunity for Nate to reconnect with his daughters, especially the elder Meredith, who still harbors a grudge towards her absent father.
Once they link up with Nate’s old friend, Martin (Sharlto Copley, District 9), the quartet are off into the wilderness to pay a visit to some lions. In their travels, Martin discovers a massacre at a village that leaves dozens maimed to death. In a few fleeting minutes, the four are attacked by a massive mountain lion, which leaves Martin near-death, Nate wounded, and everybody scared for their lives. Oh, and their Jeep is precariously perched on the side of a steep hill.
Working off a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, screenwriter Ryan Engle build the foundation for a tight genre-exercise. Sullivan and Engle previously collaborated on the Gabrielle Union-led thriller Breaking In, which was the same sort of exercise albeit a complete misfire. Similar to Fall, released last week, which placed two daredevils atop a 2,000-foot TV tower with no way down, Beast understands that it’s the human interest elements that make-or-break this type of film as much as the scenes where terror is at the forefront.
Elba’s stern demeanor and fatherly instincts are prolifically on-display. He carries the emotional heft of the film, and the pain in his eyes when trying to calm his daughters down can be read as his subconscious desire to make up for lost time. Either way, it works, and it’s the glue that holds Beast together when it starts to opt for predictable plot devices, such as lion poachers arriving and some serious good luck.
Let’s be honest, however, if you’re paying good money to see Beast, you want to see more of what was promised in the trailers. The good news is, you get plenty of lion carnage. The effects work on the lion itself is commendable, and its initial arrival is a thunderous surprise made better with a large screen and booming sound system. Destined to be overlooked is the sound editing at play here, which instills fear on its own.
Generally a sleepy month at the movies, August has given us the best case scenario for two “go-either-way” movies in Fall and Beast. You simply love to see it: simple, effective entertainment, not looking to launch a new franchise, equipped with all the pleasures generally afforded by a thriller engineered to make your palms sweat.
NOTE: Beast is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries, and Sharlto Copley. Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!