Beast movie review: Idris Elba fights a lion and common sense in Hollywood’s latest survival drama

The world is an unfair place if you are a lion. Even when they kill your whole family and you decide go John Wick on their asses, it is still Idris Elba that gets to be the hero? You are painted as the bloodthirsty villain out on a rampage, while the gun-totting Keanu Reeves in his slick black suit gets a hit sequel? Mm mm not fair.

All jokes aside, the likelihood of Beast getting a sequel seems low. A generic survivalist drama, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s film relies mostly on the dread of jump scares to bring in a false sense of thrill. It evaporates as soon as you laugh that silly laugh for having fallen for it. The writing is lazy, with characters doing the stupidest things that no one in their right minds would do – even without a lion on prowl – just so the plot could move forward, and we could get to all the roaring and slashing.

Idris Elba (Luther, Suicide Squad) plays Nate, a doctor from New York, who lands in Africa with his two daughters after the death of his wife for a holiday-cum-bonding session. Nate blames himself for his wife’s death and the eldest daughter blames him for not giving them the attention they deserved. All of this could seem like the recipe for a good family drama in midst of a fight for survival, best employed by John Krasinki in A Quiet Place, in recent times. But sadly, the issues are treated so superficially – never shown, always spoken out loud in clunky dialogue – that every time they attempt to wade into more of it, I hope for a rabid lion to come leaping and gobble them up already.

The family is hosted there by old friend Martin, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9). He is a biologist and a lion-hugger, who takes the family-of-three on the safari of a lifetime. But a lion, who witnessed his entire pride murdered by poachers, has gone rogue, and will kill, maim, slaughter, anything in its path. Soon into their safari, the family and the lion-loving uncle realise this. Though their actions would speak otherwise. In the early bits, at least, they leap off cars for a stroll along the road, divide teams, go on solo, needless missions, inviting trouble and kitty paws. The first half-an-hour inspired many eye rolls and exasperated gasps as the audience in my theatre chanted ‘seriously?’ at regular intervals. Thankfully, the murdering of common sense ended soon enough.

The second half follows crisper writing and more believable action. The film is shot mostly during daytime, which makes the movement and action easier to follow. The night time scenes in the beginning and towards the end are sometimes lit up with artificial light in the middle of the jungle (which I still think was actually a studio setup), giving it a manufactured, unreal feeling.

Idris Elba does a fine enough job in the action scenes, kicking the lion in his face or putting his best Dwayne Johnson impression on display. However, the self-beating ‘my wife was fridged’ portions were a test to sit through. The silliness of it all made me miss the survival movies, where no one gave two hoots about backstories, and characters were simply dumped into chaos. Do it well or not at all should be the motto for most things.

However, in a dearth of options and in case you have watched Nope already, Beast could still be your only option at the theatres this week. It’s easy, jump-scary, melodram-y 1.5 hours of your time. For me, I would watch Nope a second time.

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