Martin Scorsese happily admits that he borrows from the best, and that many of his most iconic scenes are inspired by other directors’ films. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But of course, Scorsese is smart enough to take inspiration from things that were already pretty good. That one character in Beast wears a Jurassic Park t-shirt early in the movie implies that the filmmakers readily admit they’re riffing on Spielberg – and that, like Scorsese, they’re proud of where they’ve drawn their inspiration.
Yet the scriptwriters – Ryan Eagle and Jane Sullivan – can hardly lay claim to writing something worthy of Spielbergian comparison. Instead, they seem to have drawn their inspiration from Jaws: The Revenge, switching the vengeance-driven shark for a vengeance-driven lion. And it’s every bit as silly as that sounds.
Dr Nate Samuels (played by Idris Elba) is the widowed father of two teenage girls who’s keen on the idea of taking his daughters back to their African roots, so they head to a South African nature reserve to see old family friend, Martin (Sharlto Copley). Within a day, however, the family holiday goes terribly wrong. A string of dead bodies accompanied by lion tracks tells Martin that not only is a man-eating lion on the loose, but the lion isn’t interested in eating at all. Therefore it can mean but one thing – the lion is looking for revenge after poachers murdered its pride.
It’s a ludicrous yet utterly accurate leap of logic from probably the most interesting character in a movie that’s largely shorn of interesting characters. Indeed, while the lion takes out pretty much everyone that appears on screen, it just can’t seem to bite the three people whose maulings would undoubtedly improve the whole affair. That Nate can move so freely while wearing so much plot armour is probably his most interesting trait.
While Nate is relatively inoffensive, with Elba playing him as close to an everyman as he can get, the girls’ insistence on arguing with every decision grates very quickly. And it’s indicative of a script that has no inspiration. Nothing smart to do or say. Just a series of cliches and very few pay-offs.
Fortunately, there are two redeeming factors. Astonishingly rendered CGI animals and Baltasar Kormákur’s assured direction. Kormákur uses long, uncut shots in almost every scene in an effort to crank up the tension and pull the viewer into the action. It works to an extent, at least until he drops in the jump scares.
Kormákur has shown a solid ear for sound design in the past – most notably Everest – here, he uses sudden splashes of noise to terrify the audience when a smarter movie wouldn’t require such cheap tricks. It all comes back to a script that actively insults those watching with ludicrous leaps of logic and lines of dialogue that spoon-feeds the stupidity directly into our ears.
Fortunately, Beast is silly enough – and brief enough at 93 minutes – to be a fun watch. Its schlocky B-movie plot moves quickly, largely because there’s hardly an inch of depth to it. It doesn’t get quite as silly as Jaws: The Revenge’s denouement, where a shark is annoyed enough with the characters to impale itself on a boar mast, but when Elba punches a lion in the face during hand-to-paw combat, it comes pretty close.
- Director: Baltasar Kormákur
- Starring: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley
- Release date: August 26, in cinemas