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Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries in Beast.
Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries in Beast.
Photo: Lauren Mulligan/Universal Pictures




Now showing in cinemas


3.5/5 Stars


Recently widowed Dr Nate Daniels and his two teenage daughters travel to a South African game reserve managed by Martin Battles, an old family friend and wildlife biologist. However, what begins as a journey of healing soon becomes a fearsome fight for survival when a lion, a survivor of bloodthirsty poachers, begins stalking them.


Every now and then, South Africans hear about someone getting mauled by a lion, whether it's a tourist who didn't close their window in a national park or a 'tame' lion taking on their handler or an unsuspecting guest. One thing we never do, however, is blame the lion for the foolishness of humans.

I think that's part of why Beast is so horrifying, especially for a local audience. American-made but filmed in our beautiful country, and helmed by Idris Elba, who is supported by our other favourite South African actor Sharlto Copley, this movie taps directly into that fear of a lion going on a killing spree, yet the lion is so convincingly real that at times you had to remind yourself that it is in fact only CGI.

But who is the lion hunting? Beyond survival, the film also explores the pain of an American family who lost their mother and hopes to heal by reconnecting with her South African roots near her hometown. A close family friend and local game reserve manager, Martin, show them around. While visiting a nearby Venda village, they stumble across a slaughter and get caught up in a battle between a rogue lion and the poachers that killed its entire pride.

Incredible detail went into creating the lions in this film - so much so that at some points, I wondered if it wasn't a real lion. Copley's character Martin has a scene where he gets a big lion hug from one he raised when it was a cub, and that scene was shot superbly - all in one take. According to Copley, he only hugged a guy in a grey suit to match the proportions of the CGI lion, but his experience with lion whisperer Kevin Richardson helped him copy what it was like to get one of these hugs in real life. The size of the rogue lion was never exaggerated, and we all know the real power lions have when it comes to destroying vehicles. Beast's groundedness is part of what makes it so terrifying, so much so that it induced a mini-panic attack during one particularly intense mauling scene - reminiscent of the Leonardo DiCaprio and the Revenant bear.

The tension and thrill were amplified by some well-thought-out cinematography, focused on very tight shots that perfectly capture that claustrophobia you might experience in the thick of the bush. It's also an easy hack for setting up jumpscares, even when you see the lion running from far away. Clearly, a lot of thought went into setting up each scene. Everything was shot with a distinct purpose and with the CGI team in mind, highlighting the tenacious focus of Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur.

Outside of the horror of the lion, the movie also dug some emotional depth for its cast to sink into, especially needed when you have someone with the talents of Idris Elba helming a movie. An interesting choice for him, he plays a doctor and father of two girls and knocks the emotional moments out of the park without much effort. The medical metaphors can get a little heavy-handed at times, and sometimes the gravitas of the scene is lost by clumsy acting from the young Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries in the beginning. Still, they get into their groove as the film progresses. Copley goes hard as a rugged animal-loving South African (aesthetically a real good look for him), and he tends to overplay his hand a tad on that front. But it's still miles better than an American trying to pull it off and connects the story solidly to the South African bush. The high-action stakes are the real drawcard of the movie, so it's easy to look past some of the more lacklustre performances.

And one thing you can say about the South African supporting cast is that they will always put in their all for every second they are on screen.

Beast far surpassed my expectations of a survival thriller, although I posit it's more of a creature feature horror with more realism. The terror in the cinema audience was palpable, although I wonder if it would have the same reaction from an audience less acquainted with the power and brutality of lions. Even if you're not into scary movies, Beast is worth a watch just for the craftsmanship and art of filmmaking - a master class in using reality to terrify.


Beast is now showing in cinemas.

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