At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Beast “2022”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Beast “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Survival Thriller/Stars: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries, Sharlto Copley, Tafara Nyatsanza, Ronald Mkwanazi, Naledi Mogadime, Thabo Rametsi/Runtime: 93 minutes

I think it is a fairly safe bet to make dear reader that a slice of cinema like the one I am reviewing for you today, noted film helmer Baltasar Kormákur’s latest cinematic endeavor Beast, really does have only a pair of tasks that it needs to achieve in order to work even remotely well thanks in large part to operating with a narrative that has been simmered down to the barest roots possible. Those tasks are that the cast of characters have to be to even a little bit intriguing and riveting to say nothing of keeping you consistently caring about what they are going through and if they are going to make it out of it in one piece and the calamity that they are dealing with has to be able to feel so legitimately threatening that even when it isn’t present on screen you and the characters are still absolutely terrified out of your minds. With that in mind, the good news about this slice of cinema is that all of the key elements necessary for it to operate to its fullest potential are most assuredly present. The bad news about this slice of cinema however has to do with the fact that it doesn’t quite know how to utilize those elements to said fullest extent. As a result, we see that this quite distinct contradiction results in a cinematic viewing experience that is very much the cinematic representation of a see-saw in that yes there are fairly visceral and thrilling moments, but darn it all if those moments aren’t also followed up by some that are just downright snooze-worthy. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: this is one slice of cinema that is very much aware that the best thing it has in its deck is the very big, very angry, and very much out for blood lion hunting our helpless heroes and when it’s not around boy does this movie spin its wheels. Indeed it manages to ditch a couple of fairly good performances in front of the camera and solid work behind the camera in the midst of a desolate savannah in Africa and seems to be completely ok with just giving us the bare minimum in terms of survival drama material that isn’t even novel by any stretch of the imagination either. Suffice it to say that yes there is some teeth to this visceral movie, but by no means are they as sharp as a premise like this usually would like them to be.

The plot is as follows:  Beast gets its narrative underway rather swiftly by introducing us to our main character, a doctor by the name of Nate Samuels. When our film opens, we see that Dr. Samuels is in a plane headed for South Africa with his pair of daughters Norah and Mere in an attempt to try and reforge his bonds with the both of them following the tragically untimely demise of their mother who our hero had become estranged from. We soon see that the trio, upon their arrival, are reunited with an old family friend in the form of a man by the name of Martin Battles. Mr. Battles, we soon learn, is an “enforcer” of sorts for a nearby nature reserve whose main job is to patrol the reserve and keep poachers who would venture in to try and harm the various animals out at all costs. The next day, we witness as our trio are treated by Martin to an excusive tour of the reserve with him as their guide. Yet, despite the day starting out fairly fun and relaxing for everyone, we soon things start to take a turn for the sinister when the quartet must make a stop at a nearby village for work-related reasons for Martin only to make the horrifying discovery that every single person in the village has been horrifically butchered. We soon discover that the assailant is not a group of poachers, but rather a huge male lion that has lost its marbles for reasons I shall leave for you to discover and, out of a sense of feline retribution, has decided to start slaughtering any humans that are unfortunate enough to cross paths with it.  An aspect that is incidentally worth mentioning because 5 guesses and the first 4 and a half don’t count as to who may have just accidentally put themselves on that list. Now what started out as a family vacation meant to heal old wounds and bring a family back together is about to give them a chance to do that albeit one that comes with the price tag of having to go up against and survive one of the most fearsome and lethal predators on the entire planet. Thus can our hero redeem himself in the eyes of his daughters and keep them and himself safe from this version of Simba that is out for blood or is the circle of life expectancy about to get a whole lot smaller for all of them? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself…..

Now right off the bat I guess you really should not be that astonished beyond any and all imagining whatsoever that the finest moments that this slice of cinema throws our way are the moments when the lion is either stalking people or in the moments where it is unleashing a visceral assault upon the helpless human beings in this film including moments in a car where it feels like this lion might have done its homework and either watched or read Cujo before the people showed up. Yes these moments are most assuredly going to be the big draw to get audience butts in seats as far as slices of cinema like this are concerned, but even with that in mind the work in that particular category definitely does deserve to be recognized. This starts with the fact that the work done by the visual effects department in this is actually really freaking good for a slice of cinema that I can assure you did not have a budget that a gargantuan production like Avengers: Endgame had in its respective corner. I mean make no mistake dear reader: creating a terrifying creature completely out of CGI can be immensely difficult to pull off, but in the case of this film the lion in this not only looks real, but it also has a perilous presence to it that feels incredibly and horrifically genuine. This is especially the case in moments where people are doing everything they can to keep it from mauling them to death both successfully and not so successfully or when the Jeep’s windows get severely damaged because of the lion’s knife-sharp claws all but annihilating the heck out of them. On top of that, we see film helmer Baltasar Kormákur proceed to wail into this slice of cinema with a style that is both gutsy yet also delightfully intelligent as well. Part of this can be found in the fact that yes we do quite often get slices of cinema like this that utilize a frenzied editing style to convey an appropriate degree of both chaos and anarchy in moments where the creature is attacking. Yet this slice of cinema doesn’t wish to be like those other films and shows this by instead choosing to go a complete 180 and it is a genuinely well-done effort as a result. Indeed through brilliant utilization of the camera, this film is able to provide you, the viewer with lengthy stretches that not only help immensely to construct suspense in a seemingly organic manner but, even when things are at their most chaotic, they also allow us to stay in the moment with our characters and not pushed to the wayside courtesy of an ill-timed cut. It should also be pointed out that this brilliant skill behind the camera is not just focused on the moments where the fur hits the fan by any means as there is a dream within a dream moment that feels less like a skilled professional working the camera and more like Merlin from 1981’s Excalibur doing some incredible sorcery before our very eyes. Finally, it should also be pointed out the tempo this slice of cinema is operating with is also fairly on-point. Indeed not only does the movie not overstay by any means, but it also doesn’t keep you waiting until 30-40 minutes for the lion to make his ferocious presence known.

With that said though, the fact that this slice of cinema clocks in at a lean and mean, including credits, 93 minutes isn’t entirely a positive since there are specific components of this film that could have been a lot better had they just been expanded on a bit more. It is also in this arena incidentally where this slice of cinema tends to veer away from the Pride Lands just a little bit. A key example of these moments that should have seen some serious expansion come in the first act in the form of some honestly quite intriguing dynamics between some of the characters like one of Nate’s daughters not really wanting anything to do with him because he seemingly wasn’t there for them or their mom while she was battling cancer or Martin telling Nate the reason he didn’t show up for the funeral was because he was of the belief that Nate’s ex-wife should have been buried back home in South Africa. Yet for as intriguing as these dynamics are, we soon see the film never really utilize them any further and instead just toss them on the proverbial cinematic bonfire so to speak. Along with that, I should point out that even though the characters in this film are very much people we can empathize with, we also see that the film doesn’t really do anything to distinguish them in any way and as a result the film itself is unable to distinguish itself as well. On top of that, yes I get that there is a giant and bloodthirsty lion hunting our heroes and that is a genuinely terrifying thing to have to deal with. The problem though is by putting so much of the terror focus on the lion, it seems to have slipped this slice of cinema’s mind that this lion is not the only terrifying thing it could have put our heroes through in this film whilst they are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way out and no way to get word to anyone to come and save them. I mean yeah the concept of needing to save water so they don’t die of dehydration does, briefly, pop up, yes a character almost gets nailed by a snake, and yes there is a river nearby full of crocodiles, but the film does absolutely nothing with any single one of those things. Instead, whenever the lion is not in their midst, the characters are actually fairly safe and as a result the stakes this film is trying to showcase don’t exactly feel genuine by any stretch. Suffice it to say this is one slice of cinema that could easily have kept you on the edge of your seat from all manner of peril and menace, but instead it only chooses to be even remotely riveting when it permits the lion to come and terrorize these poor people.

Of course, I shouldn’t really kid myself dear reader. After all, if you aren’t here to see a lion viscerally butcher some people then you are most likely here because you happen to enjoy movies that have Idris Elba in them and I can’t blame you since the man is most assuredly a fantastic talent (and yes that does include Cats, but for an entirely different reason than all of the other movies he has been a part of). In that regard, it should come as no surprise to learn that Elba is absolutely fantastic in this film and almost walks away with the entire movie on his shoulders. Indeed not only does Elba do great in the moments where he is required to emote and show that, despite what his daughters may think, he is very much regretful for how things turned out between their mother and him, but (surprise surprise) he also does great in the moments where he and Simba have to throw down. Yet it is in that area where I am thankful for the fact that this slice of cinema by no means tries to make the character of Nate a Herculean-type individual who with one punch is able to knock this lion flat on its butt and make it never terrorize his family ever again. Instead, this slice of cinema presents Nate as a seemingly realistic human being which thus means that for as fierce as he fights this lion, he’s also going to have his butt handed to him quite a bit because, after all, it IS a regular guy fighting a lion. I mean I’m not exactly an expert in the subject of lion vs. people fights, but I am pretty sure that the people who, idiotically or otherwise, choose to take part in them don’t exactly walk away without a scratch on them somewhere. Something that this film thankfully is willing to engage in and thus permit for Elba to rock some pretty visceral and gnarly looking wounds from his bouts as the film goes along. Yet along with the on-point work done in this by Elba, there is also another performance that is definitely worth mentioning in this section. Indeed in the supporting role of family friend Martin Battles, we see that not only is Sharlto Copley able to be just as engaged as Elba is even with both being very much aware of the kind of movie they are making, but he also does a great job at being a kind of contrast to Elba’s everyman courtesy of his character being more aware about the perils they are having to deal with since it’s his reality every single day he clocks in at work. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema may have its issues, but the performances by Elba and Copley do help to make up for them to some degree.

All in all I can’t really lie to you dear reader: Hakuna Matata this is certainly not. Indeed the possibility of being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a murderous lion hunting you not only does not sound like my idea of an entertaining vacation, but it also is most assuredly an idea that is ripe with plausible suspense and terror in equal measure. With that in mind though, it pains me to tell you that Beast is unable to entirely cash out in that respect. Yes the work done behind the camera is on-point and yes there are a pair of solid performances from both Idris Elba and Sharlto Copley so I guess there is that to recommend. With that said though, this slice of cinema is not only as hefty as it could have been, but the stakes are practically non-existent and I’m pretty confident you can figure out just where the narrative will go from the moment the film gets underway. However, if you are a fan of either Elba or Copley and/or it’s a rainy afternoon and you want to kill some time then have a marathon featuring this slice of cinema, 1996’s The Ghost and the Darkness, and 1981’s Savage Harvest. You may not be watching anything awards-worthy, but I promise that you will definitely be entertained. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Beast “2022” a solid 3 out of 5.