The thing I like about mid- to late-August is that we get offbeat movies. With all the blockbusters having already opened and had weeks or months of play time, the studios are free to experiment, to toss out the stuff that has merit but isn't as easy to sell as the latest Marvel flick or a big sequel. It's a climate that has given us The Night House, Good Boys, Ready or Not, and now Beast. With the majority of the summer over, seeing a 93-minute, unapologetic B-movie feels refreshing.
Idris Elba stars as Dr. Nate Samuels, a widower who takes daughters Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Meredith (Iyana Halley) on a trip to Africa. There, he's reunited with old pal Martin (Sharlto Copley). Although the trip is supposed to be healing, Meredith quickly expresses resentment over Nate's estrangement from his wife during her illness. The group drives deep into the Savannah, where a very angry lion stalks them. Their car is badly damaged during an escape attempt, leaving them stranded. The lion is not the only threat they face, though.
Intentionally light on plot, Beast exists solely to exploit the potential of an exciting scenario. The movie works because it tackles the multiple lion attacks ingeniously. Director Baltasar Kormákur (Adrift) stages the action sequences in long takes that create a sense of authenticity. Whereas many filmmakers would have heavily edited these scenes, he wisely chooses to avoid cuts, so that we're pulled into the mayhem. A bit where Nate is trapped under the car and the lion moves from side to side trying to reach him is way more thrilling presented as a single unbroken shot.
Superb visual effects add to the impact. We're at a stage where CGI can deliver photorealistic animals. You'd swear Elba is punching a real lion and that Copley is cozying up to an actual pride. When combined with the immediacy of the cinematography/direction combo, Beast offers the kind of make-you-jump thrills that Jurassic World Dominion couldn't muster.
Just enough of a personal story exists to generate stakes. Nate knows he can redeem himself by keeping his girls safe, even if it means risking his own life. Elba is typically good in the role, but Jeffries and Halley deserve credit, too. The young actresses give Norah and Meredith personalities that stand out amid the mayhem. Both characters have times where they show great bravery, making them people we can root for rather than just victims of terror.
Did you catch the part where I said Idris Elba punches a lion? What more recommendation do you need? Beast is what it is -- a slick, tightly-paced action picture that gets your pulse racing. There's no depth or greater meaning, just an hour-and-a-half of near non-stop tension with zero bloat. Movies like this are perfect fun for the end of summer, and a palate cleanser after several months of cinematic bombast.
The Beast Blu-ray contains an impressive collection of supplementary features that run about 35-40 minutes in total. First among them is an inconsequential 40-second deleted scene between Meredith and Norah. After that come the more substantive behind-the-scenes segments:
Creating the Beast - This looks at the creation of the CGI lion seen onscreen. Members of the FX team talk about the efforts they took to make the lion look as realistic as possible. There's also on-set footage of stunt people wearing special gray suits or holding props so that the actors will have something in front of them to play off.
Man vs. Lion: The Final Battle - After seeing Beast, I wondered how they possibly pulled off the finale, where Nate physically fights the lion. The answers are in this section. We meet Owen Macrae, the animal movement performer who put on a grey lion costume (later to be removed digitally) and wrestled with Elba on the African ground. Their fight was intricately choreographed, taking two weeks to shoot. Director Baltasar Kormákur is here too, discussing his desire to shoot the fight in an unbroken shot that would add realism.
Making It Real: The Wounds - Make-up and prosthetic artists reveal how they created authentic-looking injuries for the characters. They had to study actual animal-inflicted wounds to ensure everything was as legitimate as possible.
Filming in the Beast's Territory - Producer Will Packer goes into depth about the desire to film in South Africa, knowing that its distinct look could not be replicated elsewhere. Some of the inherent challenges are explored, like creating a previously non-existent watering hole and bringing large equipment into a very remote location not accessible by vehicle. The creation of the “ghost village” seen in the film is shown, as well.
Family Bond: The Cast of Beast - Elba, Halley, and Jeffries talk about the friendship they created while making the movie. They also weigh in on the relationships their characters have.
A Lion's Pride - This is an educational segment, delving into the threats lions face, most notably poachers. At the end, advice is given for how viewers can help prevent the very possible extinction of the animals.
The theatrical trailer rounds out the package. Beast is a fun thriller, and the bonus materials are nicely produced. All in all, this is very enjoyable Blu-ray release.
Click here to purchase the disc at Amazon.
out of four
Beast is rated R for violent content, bloody images and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.