Idris Elba fights a lion. Perfect. No notes. Sometimes a simple premise just works best, especially if it’s a human vs animal. Beast is a lot like Crawl which came out a few years back: just trap some people in nature facing a terrifying predator. As long as your movie doesn’t get too goofy, most people will have a great time, like I did here.
It’s not been a great year for Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba). He separated from his wife, just in time for her to get cancer and pass away. While Nate’s youngest daughter Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) can mostly forgive him, his oldest daughter Mer (Iyana Halley) blames Nate for not being around. Hoping to reconnect with his kids, Nate flies the family to South Africa to spend time with their uncle Martin (Sharlto Copley) and get to know their mom’s history. On a visit through a nature preserve though, a rogue lion whose pride was killed by poachers might have some other plans.
I appreciate Beast’s ruthless efficiency. Within 10 minutes, we’re in the pridelands of South Africa, with character backgrounds quickly established. From there, director Baltasar Kormakur really makes us scared of the lion through some really well thought out camerawork, similar to how The Office is shot. When Idris Elba enters a village where the lion has been, the first person shooting style really amps up the tension quickly, as delirium and confusion set in. The movie firmly plants us in Idris Elba’s point of view, narrowing the scope of vision to what he sees. So when Elba’s eyes widen, and he sprints away, we go with him, frantic and terrified for what he just saw. This choice also really makes the lion intimidatingly large compared to the humans, scaling the fear accordingly. Kormakur mines the most scares out of each scenario as quickly as possible, then briskly changing the stakes with a new task, or new arrivals of creatures/people, or an injury to be dealt with. Some of the scenes get a little silly, but they’re all in the effort of maximizing entertainment for everyone in 90 minutes, which is hard to fault.
While this isn’t going on any Oscar reels, Idris Elba acquits himself well to Beast’s straightforwardness. He gives the movie his endless charisma and heroic poses, as well as imbuing his character with a doctor’s calmness under pressure. Native South African Sharlto Copley isn’t a loose cannon like he usually is, instead helping to quasi narrate while being charming. Elba’s daughters Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries are requisitely good as scaredy cats. However, each of the cast gets moments to rise to the occasion and be the hero in brief moments. And the Halley/Elba tension gives the movie the emotional undercurrent it needs to connect Beast to the audience.
And again, I cannot stress this enough. Idris Elba. Fights. A. LION! I mean come on! Producers gotta love movies like Beast that sell themselves. I want the *Famous Actor* fights *animal* movies to get loopier and loopier as they go. Coming in September: Anna Kendrick fights a Scorpion. You’ll see Issa Rae take on a platypus in theaters this July. And my personal favorite: come watch Kevin James take on the scariest skunk you’ve ever seen in Paramount’s “Silent but Deadly.”