Home Feature news 'Beast' review: Idris Elba kicks lion butt in excellent survival thriller

‘Beast’ review: Idris Elba kicks lion butt in excellent survival thriller

Whether or not you’ll enjoy Beast depends on how you answer the following question: Do you want to see Idris Elba punch a lion? If your answer is yes (and it should be, let’s be honest), then Beast is 100% the movie for you.

Beast does indeed feature Idris Elba punching a lion, but it’s also got a whole lot more going for it. In the mood for killer tension, immersive set pieces, and compelling family drama? Watch Beast. Searching for the perfect adrenaline rush blockbuster to wind down your summer? Watch Beast. Do you just really want to see Idris Elba punch a lion? (Okay, I may have already mentioned that a few times, but it bears repeating.) Anyway, watch Beast.

Beast gives us high-stakes man vs. lion action

Beast stars Elba as Nate, a recently widowed doctor on a vacation to South Africa with his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries). They’re staying at a nature reserve run by family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley), who introduced Nate to his late wife. For Nate, this trip is an opportunity to reconnect with Meredith and Norah. They resent him for how he handled the separation from their mother, and for how he handled her later illness.

What starts as a gorgeous safari into the South African bush quickly becomes a nightmare when Nate, Meredith, Norah, and Martin cross paths with a bloodthirsty lion. This is no ordinary lion: He’s on a rampage against humans to get revenge on the poachers who murdered his pride. (Don’t think too hard about this — what matters is that the lion is angry and that a whole bunch of badassery is about to go down.)

Director Baltasar Kormákur casts a suspenseful spell with his use of long tracking shots as we follow our heroes through the bush. There’s a constant sense of movement and immersion throughout the film, whether we’re trailing Nate through an abandoned village or searching for the lion in the undergrowth. The reliance on tracking shots can make the transitions to static shot-reverse-shot conversations feel jarring, but overall they do their job and they do it well.

Credit: Lauren Mulligan / Universal Pictures

And then there’s the lion, a stalking, snarling CGI beast that holds up visually throughout the film. It lurks out of frame, or sometimes in the background, biding its time before it can come back and come after Nate and his family again. It probably helps the lion that his prey are almost consistently making unwise decisions — everyone stop leaving the car! — but the film’s core cast sells every less-than-great choice hard. Sure, Beast has the occasional struggle with clunky dialogue — a discussion about “anti-poaching” is such obvious foreshadowing for a later moment that lands with an awkward thud — but you’ll still be cheering by the time Elba punches. That. Lion.

Idris Elba goes dad mode

Elba is fully in protective father mode for this entire movie. His evolution from “dad having trouble relating to his kids” to “badass action hero who will face down a lion for his daughters” is a blast to watch. It’s made all the better by the film’s earlier scenes, where he mourns his wife and tries to connect with Norah and Meredith.

Halley and Jeffries do great work as Nate’s daughters. Halley nails the balance between Meredith’s fear and her attempts to remain calm in the face of danger. And Jeffries is a ray of light as Norah, delivering some of the film’s funniest lines. Together with Elba, they create a portrait of a dysfunctional yet loving family, and we can’t help but root for them to make it out of the bush alive.

With its core plot of “hunter vs. hunted,” Beast makes for a perfect double feature with this summer’s brilliant Prey. Both are character-driven adventures through the wilderness. Both explore themes of survival and familial bonds. And both feature nail-biting tension and well-executed suspense. Beast scratches the blockbuster itch in a similar way to Prey, and it’s just an all-around good time at the movies. There’s no better way to end your summer than that.

Beast is in theaters Aug. 19.

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