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"Beast" Review: Throwback thriller pits man against nature

The thriller Beast feels like a homage to the man-versus-nature films of the past. In fact, one of the main characters sports a Jurassic Park T-shirt early on as if to tell the audience that the filmmakers recognize and appreciate the influence of earlier movies in the genre. There’s nothing tremendously unique about this new addition to the genre but the story works decently enough and keeps the thrills coming during its 93-minute runtime.

Idris Elba stars here as Dr. Nate Samuels, a widowed father of two daughters. On a trip to Africa with his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), the doctor visits an old friend and reminisces about his late wife. The early sequences introduce a  friction between Dr. Samuels and his older daughter, who blames her father for leaving his cancer-stricken wife.

These scenes set up the relationships here before the film hits its stride and sets up a battle between the Samuels family and a menacing lion bent on revenge.

Early on in the film, a trip to a decimated village with local Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley) shows the devastation brought by the lion. It isn’t that long until Dr. Samuels and Battles face the lion for themselves and the battle lines are set.

The screenplay by Ryan Engle (with a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan) is straightforward and doesn’t present the lion as a huge otherworldly animal. Instead, the filmmakers simply reveal a stronger-than-usual lion who is seemingly taking revenge on humans after a pack of hunters murdered his pride.

 The set-up leads to some solid tension-packed scenes as the lion targets the quartet. Some of the attack sequences (featuring minor characters) are larger-than-life – with the lion popping out of nowhere and shooting its victims offscreen like the raptors once did in the Jurassic Park series — but the sequences between the lion and the family here are intense and oftentimes very up-close and personal, leading to some memorable scenes.

Director Baltasar Kormakur really knows when to keep the action at the center of the frame and he does that quite well when the lion attacks the family in their vehicle. There’s a sense of immediate and undeniable terror when the lion shoots his head into the window, hoping to take out another helpless victim. Kormakur ably uses the small space of the vehicle to create a claustrophobic environment as the characters feel surrounded by the looming threat.

Much of the action sequences rely on Elba’s performance and he does a great job commanding the screen. Although the back story related to his daughters feels familiar, there’s enough of a relationship here for the audience to connect to the main characters. Admittedly, the characters oftentimes make silly decisions — the decision to leave a door open in the third-act feels preposterous — but that hardly negates the suspense that the filmmakers build.

Beast isn’t as memorable as other films in the genre (e.g. Lake Placid or Crawl) but it works decently enough. With Elba as the star, the film feels like a solid throwback to movies of the past that were satisfied with offering a few thrills and action sequences. This film does that and should satisfy fans who are looking for a lean but entertaining thriller. 

Beastis now available on Blu-Ray and DVD. It can be purchased by clicking here.

John Hanlon is a film and television critic. This article was published here with his permission. All rights reserved. 

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