Released: 24th August
Seen: 2nd December
Man VS Beast is possibly the simplest and oldest story type that exists and one that has certainly been a mainstay of cinema for years. From big-time blockbusters like Jaws to smaller-budgeted films like Crawl, putting a human being up against a ravenous animal is a pretty simple and effective way to create some decent horror. In the case of Beast the man is Idris Elba and the creature is a lion, so you pretty much know what the entire film will be from start to finish and it doesn’t really do much to deviate from the exact plot that you have already begun writing in your mind.
To add specifics, Idris Elba plays a recently widowed man named Nate who brings his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) with him on a trip to South Africa so they can see the village where their mother grew up but on the trip while out in the middle of nowhere with their guide, Nate’s old friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) they end up being attacked by a particularly pissed off lion and an hour and a half of trying to not get eaten by the lion ensues… it’s Cujo but with one extra kid and the creature is a little more intimidating, that’s basically it.
Everything about Beast is pretty much the exact thing that you might expect, with moments where the lion tries to get into the car and is unsuccessful to moments where the people get out of the car because they’re stupid and even some moments where other people turn up and get turned into lion chow, it’s playing the same old tune we know well enough from a lot of other films like this and it does an adequate job at it.
What helps is that Beast, as a film, is very beautifully shot with some glorious long takes and an understanding of the simple idea that just seeing something moving in the background can be scary enough on its own. There’s no need for loud random chords when just seeing the shape of the lion slowly sneaking up towards the car window is intense enough as it is. It’s somewhat of a spin on the classic idea from Jaws that you never see the shark, in this film’s case they try to make sure you don’t notice the lion until the last second but the lion is always visible in some way.
The actual visual effect of the lion itself is possibly the best element of Beast, taking the technology that The Lion King pretty much perfected and actually using it to create some interesting emotional scenes that have stakes. It shows that you can blend that realistic-looking lion with actual human beings and it looks spectacular which is a huge positive for this kind of film. The scenes with the lion attacking the car or some of the people are spectacular, they’re the high points of Beast, which definitely needed a few more high points.
Honestly, Beast’s big problem is that the characters range between “Interesting because they’re played by Idris Elba” and “Screaming annoyance”, there just isn’t anything that compelling about the characters and almost every decision made is a dumb one. Sure, the characters are trying to deal with an attacking lion so it’d be foolish to expect them to make perfect decisions but it would be nice if they didn’t constantly make the worst choices. We’re talking stuff as basic as “Shut the hell up when the lion is approaching” or “Maybe stay in the car”, it feels like we’re forcing obviously smart characters to be dumb for the sake of the plot which is just annoying.
Look, Beast is not exactly unique or special or even that interesting if we’re being honest. It’s a slightly less intense Cujo, that’s it. However, it does have some lovely cinematography and Idris Elba is always just a general delight to watch for any reason. It’s not an absolute must-see film but if it’s available relatively cheap it could be part of a decent double feature.