“Beast” (2022) – “Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze. It means no worries for the rest of your days.” – “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King” (1994)
“I’ve never seen anything like this. Multiple attacks without eating its prey.” – Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley)
Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his teenage daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), fly from the U.S. to Mopani, South Africa to visit his late wife’s (and their late mother’s) home and stay with his longtime friend, Martin (Copley). The Samuels family is in mourning, and this trip might offer some chance of healing. Nate hopes “to reconnect with the girls” after their mother’s death.
Martin is a wildlife worker on a game reserve, one with lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Actually, director Baltasar Kormakur’s film doesn’t feature tigers, and bears don’t inhabit the continent, let alone the country.
Mopani – with a population of 1.1 million and located in the far northeast of South Africa – offers enchanting, gorgeous sights of savannas and sunsets, and Kormakur and cinematographers Philippe Rousselot and Baltasar Breki Samper deliver authentic views and ambiance, and yes, the cast and crew filmed in the country.
Anyways, Martin shuttles Nate, Meredith, and Norah around the countryside to see some animals, and they share stories about their departed friend, wife, and mother.
However, without warning, their initially positive experience quickly sours into a nightmare.
You see, a rogue male lion suddenly launches a mass killing spree. He’s hunting people and animals alike, but this beast’s primary targets are human beings out of revenge because some poachers killed his entire pride. He’s like a four-legged Jason Voorhees, and every person in his eyeshot is a camp counselor.
According to Google, male lions can stretch 8 feet long and weigh up to 570 pounds. This particular cat appears more massive, and the special effects crew has the skills to conjure this illusion.
It’s no illusion, “Beast”, written by Ryan Eagle (“The Commuter” (2018), “Rampage” (2018)), is a horror film or – at a minimum – a thriller. It’s a combination of wide-open escapades in the wilderness that will ring of “Jurassic Park” (1993) and claustrophobic confrontations that best resemble “Cujo” (1983).
The movie’s ultimate villains are a group of mangy poachers, but the 700-plus pound cat does most of the slaughtering over 93 minutes.
So, Kormakur creates a conflicting issue by attempting to garner sympathy for this misunderstood brute while the on-screen desperado slashes his victims’ throats and various limbs. (Actually, this King of the Habitat murders most of his prey off camera, which is a bit strange. Perhaps, Kormakur didn’t want to show a lion killing dozens of people on-screen, because the species is considered vulnerable. Why stir more public fear about African lions, because there are only about 20,000 left? This beast is not a villain, but then he is. It’s difficult to say, but one might recall that Mr. Voorhees takes out his targets in plain view, but I digress.)
“Beast” has bigger problems. The movie feels like a video game, or worse: one of those indoor amusement park rides where patrons sit in a stationary carriage – that shifts and rattles – and faces a movie screen. The treacherous events should unfold organically to suspend our disbelief, but on the contrary, Martin and the Samuels face an array of perilous circumstances that simply feel manufactured.
This critic felt manipulated by repeated conveniences of peril as a CGI creation stalks his victims, and there’s not a lot of time over 93 minutes for anything else other than the Samuels recalling their lost matriarch. However, those despondent scenes don’t emotionally land like they should, because we never knew the woman, and a couple of flashbacks and a dream sequence don’t do enough to connect us. Also, this dad and daughter have more immediate troubles…like avoiding death at the paws of a wickedly brilliant carnivore.
Look, this creature could be the smartest lion who ever walked the planet and one who doesn’t abide by the laws of time and space. At one point, the predator inexplicably catches up to the Samuels, and one of the girls asks, “How did he find us here, Dad?”
Nate replies, “He must have cut through the mountains.”
Good to know. The beast must have garnered some help from the script.
Elba and Copley do their best to sell Dr. Samuels’ and Mr. Battles’ fear, but the frequent jump scares were just about the only moments that registered tension. Well, that and one particular scene when Martin approaches a pride like a BFF greeting his buds during a class reunion, which is the movie’s very best moment. Otherwise, the men’s dread didn’t resonate, primarily due to the film’s slender, one-note approach.
Meredith and Norah’s dismay didn’t translate well either. One might assume frequent helpings of hysterics would fill the screen. Instead, we witness some general distress and too many doses of teenage angst, as the kids were troublesome weights for the adults to lug around. Sure, parents everywhere can generally relate to this stressful dynamic. On the other hand, “Beast” audiences could play a drinking game and take a swig every time Meredith or Norah says, “Dad!” The said instances were endless, so please, assign a designated driver, or wait until the film arrives on streaming and everyone is safe at home.
Then again, one could miss this disposable, forgettable flick altogether.
Although who could forget the preposterous third act? That insanity – which will not be revealed in this review – might burn into your brain for the foreseeable future. Maybe your patience will wear thin.
No worries, just relax and hum a few bars of “Hakuna Matata”.
⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur
Written by: Ryan Engle
Starring: Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley, and Leah Jeffries
Runtime: 93 minutes