Beast

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.


out of four

Beast is rated R for violent content, bloody images and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.