Listen! Hear that? The swishing noise is the sound of thousands of tourists reaching for their pens and crossing ‘African Safari’ off their bucket lists.
In the rather generically titled Beast, American doctor Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) takes his two young daughters, Meredith (Liana Samuels) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), back to the remote part of Africa from where their late mother originated. Since his wife’s death from cancer, Nate has become somewhat distanced from the girls, so he’s arranged to hook up with his old pal, game warden, Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), for a family holiday, that will be part safari, part tribute, part bonding experience.
What Nate and his companions don’t know is what’s happened in the film’s opening scenes, where a group of poachers have slaughtered an entire pride of lions but have failed to kill the dominant male, who is understandably miffed and looking for vengeance. This is a lion who appears to share genes with Michael Myers. He’s unstoppable – and it isn’t long before the safari has turned into a desperate attempt to survive…
Beast may essentially be a kind of landlocked Jaws, but it’s nonetheless effectively done. Screenwriters Ryan Engle and Jaime Primak Sullivan team with director Balthasar Kormákur to assemble a lean machine of a film, that alternates between Nate’s attempts to reconnect with his daughters and a series of nerve-shredding suspense sequences. I find myself flinching and gasping at every sound, as the Samuels are chased, cornered, clawed and battered, always in dire danger of becoming lion fodder. Those who dislike injury details will find themselves looking away from the screen at key points.
It’s surprisingly effective. The titular beast has been CGI generated, but is nevertheless very convincing – there’s none of the dead eyed, ‘uncanny valley’ look that affects so many computerised critters – and I find myself suitably terrorised throughout. There are some nicely integrated dream sequences too, one of which really throws me a googlie. Despite its ‘Man v Monster’ storyline, this isn’t any kind of retro macho piece: there’s nuance aplenty, and the two young girls are well-rounded, believable characters, who play an integral part in their own survival.
This isn’t going to change your life, but those who relish the idea of seeing Idris Elba punch a lion in the face will certainly get a kick out of Beast. The African tourist board, on the other hand, may not look quite so kindly upon it.
You’ll believe a lion can bear a grudge.