Beast (2022) Review
A PASSABLE ENDEAVOR, YET
NOT MUCH OF A “ROAR” IN THIS BEAST
Survival movies have been around for quite some time and have had mixed results with viewers. Tales of death-defying moments of surviving the unbridled wrath of natural elements, surreal circumstances, and unlucky situations have always been fixed point of fascination with storytelling, leading to one suspense after another and finding thrills within those “fight for flight” moments. Yet, sometimes these films struggle to find a proper balance within its own context, with an unbalanced presentation of trying to focus more on the actual survival sequences (scares, suspense, and thrills) and not much on its characters and story progression. Sometimes narrative can be well-founded within true life events (i.e., based on a true story), while other times some survival accounts were created from fiction. Such prime examples of lates includes 2015’s The Martian, 2015’s Everest, 2016’s The Revenant, 2017’s 47 Meters Down, 2018’s Adrift, 2019’s Crawl, and many others. Now, Universal Pictures and director Baltasar Kormákur present the latest survival movie in a cinematic light with the film titled Beast. Does this particular animal encounter picture find merit in its story and presentation or is it hollow endeavor with very little to meat on the bones for feature film?
Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) is traveling to South Africa, with his two daughters, Mere (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), on a mission to return to the birthplace of his late ex-wife, hoping to do some healing and bring closure, while touring the area. Meeting the family once there is Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), a longtime friend of Nate, who’s prepared to give the visitors a closer look at the local surroundings and highlights, including a trip into the wild safari to check in on a pride of lions he’s helped to raise since they were cubs. Dealing with absentee issues and some teenage hostility from Mere, Nate hopes to reconnect with kids again, but the trip quickly goes awry, and things become dire. Visiting a nearby village on the safari trip, Martin discovers the residents have been brutally murdered by a rogue long, and one who’s been triggered by the presence of vicious poachers nearby. On the prowl and ready to attack anything, the creature comes for Nate and the girls, forcing the wayward dad into action as he figures out a way to any sort of safety by fending off a feral beast while being trapped in the middle of nowhere.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
If this paragraph (and the opening one) sound familiar…. it’s because I used it from my review for Fall. As always, it’s not because that I am lazily in my writing, but it’s because that it services the same purpose of getting my point across as the introduction to the review. So…without further ado… as I mentioned above, survival movies and / or project endeavors have been its fair share of mixed opinions throughout the years. Of course, there are plenty of so-called “survival” features, including more science fiction ones (i.e., cosmic disasters, alien invasions, and unearthed primordial creatures), but the ones I’m mostly talking about are the more realistic survival features that usually focus surviving natural environments, battling the elements, and dangerous “real-life” situations. Naturally, filmmakers clearly want to show us (the viewers) the dangers and sometimes horrific events of being stuck in these circumstances in both the physical state of everything (characters and environment), but also in the mental stability in the usage of losing hope and acceptance of life finality when things look bleak. Some great survival movies have clearly demonstrated these proper balance as well cinematic flourishes, including The Martian, The Revenant, 127 Hours, Everest, The Grey, and others. The flip side to that is that there are films that lack the proper guidance in wanting to showcase such balance and end up with weak characterization or lacking a proper narration that surrounds a weak survival premise, including Survival Island, 47 Meters Down, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Regardless of which one, survival style movies shine as beacon of understanding of the enduring of the human spirit of finding a way to survive through harsh conditions and even harsher scenarios.
This brings me back to talking about Beast, a 2022 survival action thriller and the latest endeavor from Hollywood to capture the suspenseful moments of a “fight or flight” feature. In truth, I really didn’t hear much about this movie when it was announced, nor did I really hear about during its production. Basically, not a whole lot of “buzz” was generated online about this particular film. I do remember seeing the film’s movie trailer a few times when at went to the movies during the summertime…. during the” coming attractions” previews. From the trailer alone, it looked like a pretty intense movie that (of course) fell very much in line with the survival endeavors of late, but the project kind of felt a little bit like 1996’s Ghost and the Darkness (i.e., a rogue lion attacking people in Africa). Although, I kind had a feeling that the movie was going to be a somewhat “middling” project, especially since recent survival movies are bit of a mixed bag of results. Thus, my enticement to see Beast in theaters was exactly the utmost highest, especially since my work schedule was bit heavy (at the time) and I was playing a little bit of “catch up” after working on a very large project that consumed several months. So, Beast was released in theaters on August 19th, 2022, and I didn’t get the chance to see it during its theatrical run at the movies. I did, however, get the chance to see the film when it was released on VOD (video on demand) and decided to rent on Vudu. I did that back on early November and have been meaning to get my review done for the movie for quite some time, but, due to more popular movies to see / review, I kept pushing getting it done. Now, after going through my back catalogue of movie reviews to complete, I finally have some free time to share my thoughts on the feature. And what did I think of it? Well, it was sort of okay. While have some moments of suspenseful survival and cinematic techniques, Beast ends up being a predictable and straightforward endeavor with very little meat on its bone. It wasn’t a terrible movie, but it did have its fair share of problems that held the feature back, with one as a rental option endeavor (i.e., not much replay likeability).
Beast is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, whose previous directorial works include such films like Contraband, Everest, and Adrift. Given his background familiarity on the subject matter of survival feature endeavors, Kormákur seems like a suitable choice to tackle a project like Beast, which sets the stage for a thrilling and suspenseful film that the director is capable of helming. To that end, I think that Kormákur does a surprisingly good job and gives the feature the right number of thrills and suspense throughout the picture. Like most survival movies, Kormákur keeps the film’s main focus squared on the Samuels family and their particular plight of being endanger for most of the movie’s runtime. It’s effective, yet stereotypical for a survival movie, which keeps the attentions on the main characters and their dangerous situation rather than loosing focus on superfluous details. Thus, the minimalistic plot is sort of a “double edge” sword of sorts (more on that below), but Kormákur helps build upon that notion with a cinematic endeavor that proves more effective than some recent survival features out there. Perhaps the most interesting aspect that Kormákur does on Beast is the way he presents the film in its entirely, with most of the feature being shot in a somewhat “one shot” style of presentation, with the camera panning, zooming, and following the film’s main characters and creates a more “personal” journey as we (the viewers) get a more intimidate look at the feature’s story / characters throughout. It definitely adds a new to the movie and one that I personally welcome to make Beast stand out much more than other similar survival movies.
Naturally, the film’s action is the feature’s “bread and butter” of a viewer’s engagement, with Kormákur staging several big moments in Beast to help capitalize on those suspenseful and thriller scenes. While I do have some problems with how these scenes are overall executed, I do have to give credit that Kormákur makes these scenes the film’s more exciting parts and how those scary / horror elements are utilized. Yes, there are plenty of the classic / familiar suspenseful tropes that are commonly used in horror and survival movies, including dumb decisions, close calls, and jump scares, but there is an extent that I found them to be interject in the feature well in order to help “elevate” those action scenes, which certainly do (a degree). Could’ve been better handled? Of course, but Kormákur does give Beast a decent dose of action and thrills to help support the streamlined narrative path.
Lastly, the film’s runtime is pretty good, with a lean start / finish presentation that never overstays its welcome. In truth, Beast clocks in at around 93 minutes (one hour and thirty-three minutes) in length and creates a very lean feature that (objectively) gets its point across. True, I believe that there could’ve been more substance to the telling of the narrative (more on that below), but Kormákur keeps the focus on the survival of Nate and his two daughters and not so much on such superfluous subplots. In the end, while not the greatest film of this subgenre, Kormákur does make the most of Beast’s highlights by generating some entertainment of suspenseful moments that heighten the theatrics of this survival movie within its sum parts equally.
For its presentation, Beast does look to have a very pleasant feeling throughout the feature and certainly helps bring the feature’s setting to life in a believable way. Of course, the movie doesn’t “wow” or break any type of new ground (nor does it need to), but the realistic way that the movie feels organic and life-like definitely helps sell the wild, harsh African environment that the movie is set in. From Martin’s bungalow dwelling to the rock, dry “brush” terrain, the film has that very distinct feeling of African culture as well as isolation in the dangerous situation that the movie’s character find themselves in. Thus, the picture’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Tarryn McCann and Mark O’Donovan (art direction), Jean-Vincent Puzos (production design), Fred Du Preez (set decorations), and Moria Anne Meyer (costume designs), should be commended for their efforts in making the feature’s presentation work well and certainly meets the common standards of movies made in 2022. All in all, a good background setting presentation that works well in the movie.
As mentioned above, what actually standouts out in Beast is the camera work on how it “follows” its characters within a very seamless way in a somewhat “one cut” style of filmmaking. While Kormákur is the one who helms this particular, the dynamic cinematic efforts on this project are given to cinematographers Philippe Rousselot and Baltasar Breki Samper, who help create some strong usage of camera angles and sequences that builds on the movie making magic that Beast projects in its narrative. Good job from Rousselot and Baltasar for their involvement on this film and making it quite unique and cinematic. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Steven Price is quite good in the movie and definitely helps build upon the various scenes throughout the movie, especially the ones that depicts suspenseful / tension moments. A good soundtrack score, in my opinion, and Price never disappoints on that front.
Unfortunately, Beast does struggle to find a particular rhythm within its undertaking and becomes problematic throughout the entire endeavor. How so? Well, for starters, the movie itself is pretty predictable, despite having a very intense premise and promising chilling thrills. From how everything is narratively structured, the movie doesn’t really offer much in the way of creative ingenuity when it comes to storytelling, with scenes playing out in a very rudimentary fashion and having a formulaic touch throughout. Thus, a lot of the film’s various twists and turns that are intended to be throwing some type of “curve ball” into Beast’s story comes off as very generic and predictable, especially for the survival genre. As mentioned above, I do give credit to Kormákur’s efforts in help build a suspenseful movie, but the story is quite lacking and becomes utterly predictable from the get-go. Thus, the script handling by Ryan Engle and Jaime Primak Sullivan comes off as weak element in the feature. Of course, the script / story shaping of any survival movie is usually the weakest part, with more attention focused on the action and not so much on the tale substance. That being said, Engle and Sullivan’s efforts in Beast, while commendable at times, still comes off as pretty limp and one-dimensional, lacking the dynamics of heart and drama through this surreal trial of tribulations. Plus, it also doesn’t help that the script’s written dialogue comes off as a bit hokey and silly at times. It’s not too terrible as to be cringeworthy, but there are several moments where the dialogue (written) dips into the cheesy and silly moments, despite the overall seriousness that the feature is trying to convey. It also doesn’t help that the film’s entire first act (literally one third of the movie’s runtime) is devoted to character setup, which is already quite simple, and becomes quite boring to watch with a lot of talking moments and that’s it.
While I did mention earlier that the film’s scary / horror elements are effectively utilized in the film, there are some problems that I had with its execution in the Beast’s story. How so? Well, like how the narrative is quite predictable and formulaic, the “jump” scare moments come across as mechanic and not so really scary. Yes, it does provide those particular moments to help heighten the action and thrills, but all the “fake outs” and near misses come off as programmable mechanics (in nature) and don’t really feel creatively utilized the right way, which results in the feature’s scary moments feel a bit “meh”. Then there is, of course, the actual lions themselves, who are CGI rendered in the movie. It’s not terrible or cringeworthy, but it’s quite obvious that they are computer generated and sort of “cheapen” the experience to some degree.
In addition, there are also some directorial decisions that I don’t necessarily agree with that Kormákur interjects in the movie and just come off as wonky presentation. I’m not saying that they are bad or slow up the pace, but these particular “dream-like” sequences that Nate has (with them depicting his recently deceased ex-wife) comes off as rather wonky and clunky, servicing very little purpose in the main story behind the reflections of Dr. Samuel’s thoughts on her. It there was more to it, then I would welcome it, especially if drew to some type of “pivotal” moment of clarity with the character of Nate. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and these sequences are presented in a very bizarre way that feels a bit of headscratcher. Perhaps the only “superfluous” tendencies in the narrative / film that I kind of wished that were removed from the feature’s final cut.
The cast in Beast is quite small, with the primary focus of the feature pinpointing on handful of main characters and in their particular sticky situation that they find them in. What’s presented definitely works, with the acting talent involved given some decent performances in the film, which are helped by the “fight or flight” mentality of survival. That being said, the characters (how they are written) are a bit bareboned, with very little in the way of substance for character development. Again, mostly everything in the movie is presented straightforward, so I sort of knew that was going to be the case, especially with survival movies, but I would’ve liked to see more. Perhaps the best character in the movie would be the film’s leading star, with actor Idris Elba playing the main protagonist role of Nate Samuels. Elba, who is known for his roles in Pacific Rim, Molly’s Game, and The Wire, has always been a very charismatic and likeable actor, providing that his talents are effectively utilized throughout his career and his performances. So, it goes without saying that Elba definitely carries the film through his sheer force of screen presence throughout. Elba manages to handle all his scenes quite well and makes some understand as to what makes Nate endearing to watch through this very deadly situation. You feel for him as a broken man, who is struggling to manage / connect with his two daughters and how much he would do (at great lengths) to protect his family in this survival movie. That being said, Nate (as a character) is written rather straightforward and, despite the attempts made in the script, and (like the story itself) is rather formulaic and predictable. So, it goes without saying that Elba helps elevate that particular criticism in Nate and, while not his most memorable character role in his career, definitely makes an impact for his involvement on this project.
Behind him, the movie does shine a light on Nate Samuels two daughters, Meredith “Mare” and Norah Samuels, who are played by young actresses Iyana Halley (Licorice Pizza and This Is Us) and Leah Sava Jeffries (Something from Tiffany’s and Rel). Collectively, these two characters are pretty much the stereotypical “daughter” characters in the movie and ultimately becomes their respective characters downfall. Mare is your typical angry and rebellious teenager that’s moody a lot and Norah is the younger tween / teen is a bit more sensitive and gets more scared easily. It’s not for a lack of trying from Halley and Jeffries’s part as both actresses do with what they can with the given material handled to them, but it still comes off as a bit cliched and cheesy at times. Lastly, actor Sharlto Copley (District 9 and Chappie) does a good job in the role of Martin Battles, a wildlife biologist and an old friend to Nate. He does make for a great supporting character in the movie and does make for a strong introduction in the first act, but he sort of gets push aside in the latter half of the feature. I’ve always liked Copley as an actor and, while I do like him in Beast, I do wish that he had more screen time in the film.
Unfortunately, given that the story focuses primarily on the “main four” cast of characters throughout the movie, any type of secondary / minor ones, including Tafara Nyatsanza (The Fix and Spell) as Benji, Ronald Mkwanazi (Queen Sono and Deep State) as Mutende, Naledi Mogadime (who makes her theatrical debut in the movie) as Amahle, and Thabo Rametsi (The Giver and The Mauritanian) as Jersey, are delegated to the minor supporting players in the movie. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really give much time for these characters to be developed or even memorable in their limited screen time. Of course, their acting (for their parts) is fine, but the script never gets them anytime to make a lasting impact and are only either to propel the narrative forward or just simply “cannon fodder” in a few scenes.
While trying to spend some bonding time with his daughters and finding some type of solace over the passing of his wife, Dr. Nate Samuels travels into the “brush” of Africa, but gets caught up in a very dangerous situation when his family is left stranded in the wild and being hunted by a rogue feral lion in the movie Beast. Director Baltasar Kormákur latest film takes a new slice out of the survival movie genre by producing what was promised in the film’s trailer and marketing campaign; a sticky circumstance of events that finds a family being pursed by a wild, killing animal and finding the narrative premise to be effective in a few areas. Unfortunately, despite the movie having several moments that work, a great, slick cinematography cinematics, and some good action moments, the film itself struggles to find a balanced rhythm, especially since Kormákur’s wonky direction, a lackluster first act, predictable nature, and lackluster secondary characters. Personally, I thought that this movie was just mediocrely okay. Yes, it definitely had its moments of where the movie did come together and I thought that some of cinematics were great, yet it all seems shallow, despite the attempts made by intense action scenes and “fight or flight” survival scenario that the movie heavily banks on. It’s decent enough, yet also not enough substance. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both an “iffy choice” as well as a “rent it” as some viewers out there might it interesting, yet maybe only as a “one time” viewing experience (if that at all). Not much replay value of revisiting the movie over and over again…in my opinion. In the end, Beast is a somewhat adequate movie that gets job done in what it wants to convey, yet its hard the spectacle survivor feature it desperately wants to be. It’s fine for what it is as ambitious filmmaking project, but lacks in its own simplistic approach and generic fake-out jump scares. There’s just not much of a “roar” in this beast.
3.2 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: August 19th, 2022
Reviewed On: January 6th, 2023
Beast is 93 minutes long and is rated R for violent content, bloody images and some language