Beast (Christian Movie Review)￼
About The Movie
We are now into the dog days of the movie season, but the lion is still king of the jungle. Beast is perhaps the last notable theatrical movie release of the summer, as things look as barren as the Sahara Desert until the Fall. While it may not end the summer with a roar, Beast succeeds in providing more than a whimper.
The premise is simple: man v. lion. A single father (Idris Elba), grieving the death of his ex-wife, takes his two daughters on an Africa safari. Circumstances go amiss, and they find themselves relentlessly hunted by a rogue lion. The film’s trailer hinted at the possibility of deeper or more mysterious plots, or potential twists to throw audiences off the scent. Nope. Beast never aspires to be more than it is, which is a simple man versus nature, survival story. The narrative unfolds as expected without lot of surprises (with scenes early on forecasting where the story will go). The film is also played straight, electing not to lean into any silly, over-the-top pulp entertainment as many similar movies have (don’t expect to see Elba body-slamming the lion or delivering Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners, “What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?”).
Beast is a B-movie that was not dropped into the elephant graveyard of the movie year without reason. Yet, quality execution and craftsmanship elevate it far higher than might be expected. It’s a B-movie, but everyone involved is bringing their A-game. Director Baktasar Kormákur steers the film with earnestness, showcasing gorgeous cinematography and framing the action in such a way that immerses the viewer into the thrilling moments (including several long, tracking shots that are excellent). The lion is obviously a digital creation but is impressive and it looks real enough not to be a distraction.
Another factor bumping Beast further up the food chain is Idris Elba. It is a bit odd to see an actor of Elba’s caliber in a movie like this, but the film is the better for it. He gives a grounded performance as a grieving single dad. The actresses portraying the two daughters hold their own as well, even if the youngest seems strangly upbeat given the dire circumstances.
In the end, despite some uncertainty in the beginning, Beast slowly won me over by the end. With a runtime that comes in at just over 1:30, it is lean enough to not overstay its welcome to stretch its simplistic plot too far. It may not be a great film, nor will it be particularly memorable, but it is the best version of itself. Given the lack of other available films, perhaps that’s all it needs to be.
Engage The Film
As expected from the premise and short runtime, the film is primarily aimed at providing some thrills and not exploring deep themes. However, the film’s title can be applied in several different ways. The most obvious meaning is that the beast is simply the lion as a literal lion.
The “beast” can perhaps also be taken in a spiritual, quasi-metaphorical sense. Scripture warns Christians, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). While I am typically reluctant to force a square Hollywood film to fit into a circular allegorical meaning, the film itself opens the door to this imagery. A local villager and survivor of a lion attack repeatedly refers to the beast by a word that is translated as “devil.” As the film progresses, the lion’s appearance gets increasingly deranged and seems to take on a more demonic or sinister aura. There is also a shot that briefly focuses on a church steeple, which lends more weight to the possibility of a religious framework. I’m not suggesting that the film was intentionally designed as some sort of Christian allegory, but for Christian viewers the movie provides some powerful imagery of a father doing his best to protect his family from the prowling beast bent on devouring them.
A third, and likely more intentional interpretation of the title, is that the contrast between the outer beast (the lion) and the internal beasts. Elba’s character is grieving and blames himself that when trials and death came for his family, he wasn’t present enough to do anything to stop it. “I thought I would have more time,” he says. There are several dream scenes inserted throughout the movie where he is searching for his deceased wife. As he battles the literal beast, he also battles his inner demons, until he finds his wife, and in a symbolic sense, finds peace.
Man & Nature
Beast it not a “preachy” film, but it does present a clear message of “nature is good until bad humans mess it up.” In reference to the lion attacks on some poachers, one character says, “They’ve learned who their real enemy is. Now they’re fighting back.” There is a sense in the film that nature is a perfectly ordered, with character repeatedly referring to “the law of the jungle,” until the villainous poachers provoke the lion to anger.