Recent widower Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) takes his two daughters (Leah Sava Jeffries, Iyana Halley) on a trip to South Africa to visit an old friend (Sharlto Copley) working as a game warden. While on a trip into the game reserve's restricted areas, they encounter a ferocious lion who has begun hunting humans and has targeted Nate's family...
As much as many, many directors have tried over the years, nobody has come close to replicating the sheer terror and delight of 'Jaws'. Not even Senor Spielbergo himself has gotten close to it, and the less said about the sequels, the better for everyone. It was truly lightning caught in a bottle, a unique confluence of cast, setting, desperation, and ingenuity that hasn't been effectively replicated since.
'Beast' is, however, a remarkably neat movie that does its best to adhere to the efficiencies of 'Jaws'. Baltasar Kormákur has become Hollywood's go-to guy for survival thrillers, taking on everything from Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin on the side of 'Everest', to Shailene Woodley and Sam Clalflin surviving in the middle of the ocean after a hurricane in 'Adrift'. Between these, he's made basic crime thriller programmers with the likes of Mark Wahlberg and Dermot Mulroney. 'Beast' is a confluence of these two aspects of his career - a survival story that's also an enjoyable, disposable programmer.
Idris Elba is more than capable of maintaining the action throughout the movie, and his co-star Sharlto Copley is equally as effective in giving the proceedings an edge of fear and threat when he gets horribly injured early on. Elba's on-screen daughters never quite get the chance to shine, though they're there primarily to give Elba's character a reason to be frightened all the time. Much of the movie is the four characters trapped inside a damaged jeep as the lion stalks around them, and Kormákur's use of long takes gives the dialogue a loose, authentic feeling to it. You can see Elba panicking in parts, fumbling over his lines, while trying to keep the scene moving. It's a good idea, because the other star of the movie isn't nearly as effective.
Again, to director Baltasar Kormákur's credit, the CGI lion is only ever utilised when it's absolutely necessary. A tedious backstory is developed to give the lion some kind of motivation and probably to absolve the audience of feeling bad for it being the antagonist, but it just comes off as a hokey excuse. Other movies of this particular stripe, such as 'The Ghost and the Darkness', proved that it's not all that necessary to know why an animal is doing what it's doing. 'Jaws' understood this too. More to the point, however, when the CGI lion is fully revealed, it's still terrifying and the sound design gives it an extra boost of fear.
'Beast' works off a pretty primal understanding of fear - they're trapped inside a cramped jeep, there's something terrifying outside, supplies are low, they're injured, and it's getting dark. That's when 'Beast' is at its best, when the cast are scared and trying to keep it together. The only problem is that 'Beast' leads itself into a final act that is, frankly, laughably ridiculous. It goes exactly where you expect it to go, and the execution of it undermines the real sense of atmosphere and tension that's been so effectively built up over the course of it all.
It's a shame that it went there at all, but it doesn't stop you from enjoying the eighty-odd minutes that lead up to it.