After the death of his ex-wife, Nate (Idris Elba) takes their two teenage daughters Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Mer (Iyana Halley) to South Africa where their mother came from originally. Meeting up with their old friend Martin (Sharlto Copley), the trip is supposed to reconnect and heal all of them a little. Things are off to a good start when Martin takes them out into the local national park where he works as a vet. But poachers have also been to the park, hunting, hurting and killing lions. Martin, Nate and the kids stumble upon evidence that one lion has started to fight back – and then they find themselves in its crosshair, prompting a desperate fight for survival.
Beast promises us a fight between Idris Elba and a lion, and it does give us that (not like The Grey that promises us Liam Neeson fighting a wolf and then cuts out just before that happens). If you would like more from a movie – like a plot that makes sense or characters that behave believably – you’ll be disappointed. But if that is all you want, go for it.
Beast worked rather well for me in the first half or maybe even two thirds. There the film still makes an effort to have characters that are human, as in: they have personalities and no supernatural powers. And it works pretty well. Elba, Copley and the girls have good chemistry with each other, making them likeable. Nate, Norah and Mer have tense relationships, the usual tension between teenagers and parents compounded by the extra-ordinary circumstances. It works pretty well, even if it is sometimes too on the nose.
And that is important because narratively, the lion basically attacks so Nate can prove that he can take care of his daughters. Which had me rolling my eyes a bit, because care from a father should not be him killing all dangers around his daughters (or maybe should not just be that). His daughters are pretty clear what the want from him: that he listens, that he spends time with them, that he is interested in them. But his hero journey demands that he punch a lion instead. Literally. Martin makes clear at the beginning that male lions are there for protection, females for nurturing. The movie appears to draw parallels to humans there that are entirely uncomfortable, deterministic, biologistic and heteronormative.
That the lion gets ascribed human motives – it is out to avenge its murdered pride – is weird, but okay. That pales in comparison to the gender fuckery. In the end, though, the film almost loses interest in that angle as well. The last third or so is basically just Idris fighting the lion and what should be an exciting showdown, lost me completely. I even nodded off for a bit. So much for tension.
In any case, Beast does have some nice moments, but overall I have to say that it just wasn’t enough for me to watch Idris Elba fighting a lion. I would have thought differently before this film.