If you’ve ever been on an African safari or dreamed about going on one, the thriller Beast should hit home.
A recent widower, Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba), is taking his two teenage daughters – sullen Meredith (Iyana Halley) and her younger sister Norah (Leah Jeffries) – on a healing journey to the South African savannah where their late mother, a photographer, spent her childhood.
They’re greeted by wildlife ranger Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), an old friend of the family, who promises to take them on a VIP tour through parts of the game park that are off-limits to the public – perhaps to assuage their disappointment at lack of Wi-Fi and cell reception in the middle of nowhere.
The next morning, one of their first stops is at the hillside where Martin introduces them to a pride of lion, headed by the two playful males that he’s hand-raised.
What none of them realize is that – just before their visit – vicious poachers gunned down another entire pride of lion, leaving only the huge patriarch who escaped into the tall grass. Infuriated, he goes rogue, unpredictably attacking every human who crosses his path.
Of course, that includes Martin and the Samuels family, who become vulnerable prey when their Jeep breaks down: “We’re in his territory now.”
Scripted by Ryan Engle from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, it was reportedly pitched to Universal Studios executives as “’Cujo’ with a lion.”
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (Everest) works with cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and the digital team to create savage terror as the canny, vengeful beast repeatedly stalks them.
“The actual fighting off the lion was really difficult,” Elba has said. “There were no (real) lions used in the making of this film.” Instead, he worked closely with movement performers and stuntmen in motion-capture outfits to create the formidable, computer-generated predator. That’s somewhat the same as how Leonardo DiCaprio was mauled by a grizzly bear in The Revenant.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Beast is a suspenseful, survivalist 6, playing in theaters.