‘Beast’ is a silly but really thrilling creature feature

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(2 stars)

The marauding animal thriller is a horror staple, reliably appearing in late summer, as evidenced by “Piranha” (August 3, 1978), “Cujo” (August 12, 1983), “Arachnophobia (July 18, 1990), “Burning Bright” (August 17, 2010), “The Meg” (August 10, 2018), and a host of other wildlife-centric tracks before, since, and in between featuring a Noah’s Ark virtual species scaring. Into this line falls “Beast”, the latest entry in the canine-era canon of cautionary tales pitting man against the less-wise offspring of Mother Nature. If the film is sublimated by the great Idris Elba – playing an American widower on safari in South Africa with his two daughters who must face a rogue lion who is desperate, for lack of a better word, to take revenge – it nevertheless falls squarely into the formula camp.

This means that “Beast” obeys certain rules, and does so in an efficient but predictable way, under the direction of director Baltasar Kormakur, a filmmaker who, since making a name for himself in Iceland, has staked out part of the Hollywood territory reserved for such visceral fools. thrillers like “Adrift” and “Everest”.

“Beast” is a legitimately scary movie, opening with a prologue in which we watch a group of poachers slaughter several lions, then get slaughtered, one by one, by the film’s titular creature: a convincing CGI cat who then passes on a human – killing rampage, not eating prey – random villagers, surviving poachers, etc. – like an ordinary lion would, but in a sense hunt them down and kill them out of an anthropomorphic sense of justice. In this unlikely scenario wander Nate of Elba and his daughters Meredith and Norah (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries), who are on a mission of reconciliation after the death of their African-born mother while separated from Nate, leaving the movie hero with a healing to do.

It is not just reconciliation he seeks, but redemption for being away from his family during their time of need. And as everyone knows, redemption, at least in Hollywood, requires sacrifice. It all falls into place, like a morality piece, against a scenic backdrop, with solid performances from the aforementioned actors and Sharlto Copley, who plays an old family friend and their tour guide to the wildlife sanctuary in which the action takes place. .

And it’s action-packed, even though much of the story takes place inside a disabled Land Rover containing the main characters, with said lion on the warpath outside and not much in the human arsenal other than a tranquilizer gun, a few bottles of water, a handheld radios, a medical kit, and their intelligence.

The jump scares are seriously edgy, but the movie feels more like a theme park ride than a family drama with teeth. It’s thrilling, in other words, from a heart-pounding perspective, but not particularly engaging as a narrative, despite the cast’s earnest efforts to bring to life a personal story arc that feels stuck on a other: one that is, in essence, the story of a mute but deeply disagreeable beast.

R In neighborhood theatres. Contains violence, bloody images and foul language. 93 mins.

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