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Beast review: Idris Elba fights a lion in suspenseful but silly survival thriller

The new film from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur occasionally falters but works well as escapist popcorn entertainment. **WARNING: Contains spoilers for Beast**

Idris Elba in Beast - review.
Universal
Published: Thursday, 18th August 2022 at 5:00 pm
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A star rating of 3 out of 5.

If you were forced to come up with a quick elevator pitch for a film that was more or less guaranteed to attract the attention of cinemagoers, "Idris Elba does battle with a rogue, man-hunting lion" wouldn't be a bad bet. And that's pretty much the exact synopsis of Beast, the new survival thriller from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, whose previous directing credits include buddy cop comedy 2 Guns and adventure flick Everest. The result is a somewhat silly but largely enjoyable film that should keep viewers thoroughly entertained for the duration of its tight 90-minute runtime, even if it won't give them too much to chew on upon leaving the cinema.

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Elba takes on the role of Dr Nate Samuels, a recently widowed father who is attempting to put his life back on the right track. As part of his plan to reconnect with teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) – relations with whom have understandably become somewhat strained – he decides to take them on a trip to a game reserve in South Africa, the place where he first met his late wife. Their host is Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley) an old friend and fellow wildlife biologist who instantly strikes up a rapport with the kids and is especially eager to give them their first safari experience.

And so, the morning after their arrival at the reserve, the group set out for what should be nothing more than an exciting day trip. To begin with, it all seems to go smoothly – Meredith and Norah are soon expressing awe as Martin introduces them to a pride of lions – but alas, it doesn't take long for their foray into the wild to go horribly awry. Following a worrying encounter with a severely wounded local, the gang stumble upon the site of a brutal massacre, and it soon becomes clear that a wild animal has gone rogue. Although Martin is initially insistent that "lions don't do this," he also makes it clear that whatever was responsible is still out there. In other words, they are very much in the danger zone.

What follows is a suspenseful survival tale complete with some well-staged action set pieces, naturally culminating in the ludicrously entertaining sight of Elba grappling with the rogue lion mano-a-mano. Along the way, the gang face all sorts of difficulties as they repeatedly come up against the beast – including almost driving their car off a cliff face – while Martin gets an especially rough deal, really getting put through the wringer after his leg is torn up by the predator. One scene in which he must perform emergency surgery on his leg with a knife is particularly gnarly, and the ever-charismatic Copley excels in a physical performance full of winces and yelps. There's a strain of tension running through all of these scenes and as pure popcorn cinema, it delivers just about exactly what it promises.

Beast
Beast Universal

Where the film falters slightly is in its attempts to become something rather more meaningful. The deeper, emotional core regarding the family's grief and their struggle to mend their relationships comes off a little trite and overplayed, with some creaky dialogue along the way – and the flashbacks and dream sequences that occasionally disrupt the action don't really work. Meanwhile, an intriguing conflict between poachers and anti-poachers is hinted at a handful of times – and even seen overtly in one chilling, key scene – but it's never really fully probed, serving essentially as a surface-level backdrop to the survival story as opposed to anything more insightful.

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Still, the film makes good use of its bonafide movie star lead and picturesque South African setting to create a fun, escapist thrill ride, and Kormákur’s accomplished direction ensures this is a solidly tense affair throughout. The prospect of a wild animal going rogue and indiscriminately attacking humans might not exactly be the most original idea in the world – it's no coincidence that one of Nate's daughters is seen wearing a Jurassic Park T-shirt, after all – but this is one of the better recent entries in the canon. And besides, any film that features Idris Elba kicking a lion in the face has at least one thing worth tuning in for.

Beast is released in UK cinemas on Friday 26th August 2022. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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