In the SyFy age of Piranhaconda and Croczilla and all that jazz, it is easy to overlook the nature attacks genre. When treated with respect, it is far more than a bad-CG-a-plenty-splurge of fading stars sleepwalking through a script that reads as though it was concocted by two pissed-up mates at a Wetherspoons. Instead, this genre of horror can harness a point, a spirit and a memorable chomp, alongside action presenting the gripping power of nature and some intense sustained suspense. This grand tradition began with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and, of course, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and we are happy to see cinema again opening its doors to such killer animal fare in Baltasar Kormákur’s thrilling Beast.
Starring Idris Elba as the recently widowed Dr. Nate Samuels, who takes his teenage daughters on a trip to Mopani Reserve in South Africa to visit “uncle” Martin (Sharlto Copley), a conservationist, biologist and Mopani manager. Samuels’ relationship with his daughters may be on rocky ground, but when poachers kill a lion’s pride, this rogue lion goes on a bloodthirsty rampage, leaving a father who is likewise out to protect his family.
Beast is a ferocious and often nail-biting nature attacks horror/thriller, which at points recalls Cujo in its taut, confined, survivalist atmosphere. It is so gratifying to see this genre back on the big screen (if memory serves the last time, was Alexandre Aja’s exceptional Crawl) and treated with the utmost dignity. The top-tier special effects work (so refreshing to be able to praise this element) and an environmentally conscious story, unite to create a story that boasts excellent characters, as well as an important point.
Beast’s rogue lion "monster" is very much a character, not just a horror creature, and one made from mankind's greed and evil. This big cat gone feral, has been made by humanity’s thirst for killing and profiteering. Yes, the film could lean further into its messages of anti-poaching and how man provokes nature into unnatural violence, which slip a tad as the action intensifies, and we could have hoped for a more untypical ending, but you must admire Baltasar Kormákur for making a film that is not only in awe of the natural world but which has a real sympathy for it, while also creating a quartet of lead characters in whom we actually hope for survival, despite the film's -and our - clear sympathy for its animal antagonist.
Elba is excellent as a human parallel to the tragic animal he faces, as he too is protecting his pride. While young stars Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries, as Nate’s two daughters, are equally impressive. While Copley, as the animal-protecting Martin is a show-stealing presence to the film, and in many ways its beating heart.
Beast is well acted, tautly delivered, beautifully shot by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (recalling Flavio Martínez Labiano’s work on The Shallows, only on dry land rather than raging sea), and scored with a constant culturally-respectful atmosphere by Steven Price.
Beast brings animal attacks films back to the cinema schedule with gruesome efficiency and thematic bite. You might call it Jaws with paws... and plenty of claws! Brilliant.BEAST is in UK cinemas now; coming soon to rent/buy digitally; and will hit Blu-ray December 31st