Beast – This Lion is No King

MOVIE REVIEW – Idris Elba and his daughters hide, flee and occasionally fight a bloodthirsty lion on the savannah. The Beast could have been another Jaws, but the terribly weak script, mostly lacklustre performances and relatively low technical execution mean it falls far short of the mark.



As I waited for the press screening of The Beast to start, I wondered what a great opportunity this could be to see a blockbuster in the middle of summer, with a different setting and animal, but in many ways very similar. Quentin Tarantino recently called Steven Spielberg’s classic horror film Jaws the best summer blockbuster of all time, and deservedly so: 47 years after the film was first released, it is still a true reference work about the ‘sea beast’. Sadly, The Beast is not even close to Spielberg’s classic, and in fact, we can go point by point in comparing the two films to see what things went so wrong in Baltasar Kormákur’s savannah lion film.



A sympathetic approach but a ruined script


“In the film, Idris Elba plays Dr Nate Samuels, a recently widowed husband who returns to South Africa where he met his wife. This trip was long planned, but now Nate is going to the game reserve with his daughters, without his wife. But what started out as a soul-healing journey turns into a terrifying struggle for survival when a lion, fleeing a raiding party of bloodthirsty poachers, sees all humans as enemies and begins to hunt them…”

This is the synopsis of The Beast, which sounds relatively interesting at first. The well-put-together trailer focused on action wasn’t bad, and Idris Elba is a routine, great actor, so I was expecting at least a nice little summer lion horror.

However, the film starts off terribly boring and clichéd as Nata arrives with her daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) at the savannah house of her boyfriend Marton (Sharlto Copley). Meredith is the typical self-absorbed, irritatingly hysterical teenage girl who needs to be the constant centre of attention – mainly because without it, the lead-up story would be even more boring. As soon as Martin identifies her as Meredith, she immediately and self-consciously retorts, “It’s Mer now!!!” which, let’s say, is not clear from the story later on what the significance of this is, why the audience needed to emphasize it so much. “Mer” is constantly criticizing her father, why he didn’t pay enough attention to her mother before her death. Now to her, why he doesn’t get down in front of Mer’s photos (both mother and daughter are photographers) – all in a very irritating style – Norah is scolding her sister for picking on her father, Nate is defending himself rather lamely, and in the evening, after some drinking with his friend Martin, he is mourning the death of his wife.



Shark vs lion


If you add all this to Spielberg’s aforementioned classic, where right at the beginning of the film, the shark attacks the naked bathing girl in a scene that has become iconic, with the iconic musical score, and then the 75th film brilliantly sets up the primary conflict of the story, then The Beast is almost a vet horse for how NOT to start this type of film. And yet the first story section of The Beast could have been cleverly worked out, as the depiction of the savannah world, with its lions and poachers central to the film, would have offered plenty of exciting story possibilities for a Spielberg-caliber director anyway.

For example, the aggressive poachers, who are real criminals, are just as frightening as the lion himself, and the antagonism between them could have been cleverly and interestingly developed with actual scenes of the poachers slaughtering the pride of lions to give the lion a motive, but this is only done in a sort of allusion in a subplot.



Waves vs savannah


Finally, the importance of the environment really stood out in the film. The shark, after all, lives and attacks in water, and this is not a natural environment for humans, where the protagonists are at the mercy of the (later sinking) boat and the waves, a scarier and more immersive experience by miles than the savannah – at least as it is realized in this film during the scenes.

While the scenes in the film where they are trapped in the cramped car and the lion attacks are indeed thrilling, the vulnerability that was so pronounced in The Shark is rarely felt in the other scenes. This is mainly due to the lack of direction, script and cinematography because it would not have been an impossible task to create genuinely gripping, tense scenes in this film.



We need a better Idris Elba


Finally, the acting should also be mentioned, because the film has nothing to be proud of. I was not surprised that the actors, who are not very well known, are only capable of rather mediocre performance. Still, I would have expected more from the experienced Idris Elba. In principle, he should have been almost terrified of the lion attacking his children or of the beast itself, but it wasn’t that convincing.

And yet, thinking back to Roy Scheider’s iconic performance as Brady, the water-phobic police chief fighting the shark, there was plenty of potential in a similar character of Idris. After all, it was the look of shock and horror on Scheider’s face when he first met the great white’s wide open mouth and uttered the now legendary, oft-quoted line, “We need a bigger boat…”

This film would have needed better direction, acting, cinematography – in short, more skill – to make this Russian summer blockbuster at least comparable to Spielberg’s classic.



Direction - 4.2
Actors - 3.8
Story - 3.4
Visuels/Action - 5.2
Ambience - 4.6



This film would have needed better direction, acting, cinematography - in short, more skill - to make this Russian summer blockbuster at least comparable to Spielberg’s classic.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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