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Review: Beast

No one was crying out for a reimagining of Jaws: The Revenge but Beast is about as close to such a bizarre film as we are going to get. Animal revenge films don't come around too often and maybe the reason for that is they tend to split audience loyalties. Beast opens with a pride of lions being savagely gunned down. The lone male survivor then sets out to avenge their death by killing every human it encounters. We understand his anger which muddles things as we soon have to cheer against him in order to side with the human characters driving the film.

Those humans include Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba), his two daughters Merideth (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), and their anti-poacher friend Martin (Sharlto Copely). Nate is a widowed father who is bringing his daughters to Africa, their mother's homeland. They are staying with Uncle Martin. While on a safari, they stumble across a small village that has been viciously massacred by a lion. They flee but are soon hunted down by the lion, hellbent on revenge.

The two young performances by Halley and Jeffries are serviceable but the screenplay constantly makes them act in frustrating ways. Bad decisions abound, instructions are ignored, and a serious lack of self-preservation is present in about everything the two young girls do. Most of the time they are reduced to screaming, another bad idea when being hunted by a lion. Ryan Engle's script commits the biggest sin in a movie like this, making us not respect the intelligence of the characters in peril. At a certain point, I gave up caring if they made it out alive because I wasn't sure they wanted to live.

Elba and Copely are given more to play off of, especially Sharlto Copely who gives Martin a sense of respect and love for animals that makes him the only smart character in the film. Elba is believable in the action scenes and he is the kind of actor you want to succeed. The details of his character, bad father and possible alcoholic, are thinly sketched here but once survival mode kicks in, Elba makes Nate compelling. He also displays enough smarts to keep us rooting for him.

While the screenplay is constantly frustrating, Baltasar Kormákur's direction is slick and taut. He stages the action in long takes that build tension well. Scenes are allowed the time to build slowly to vicious attacks and carnage. This filming style makes Beast feel more like a haunted house film at times than an action film but it works as we constantly search the frame for signs of the beast.

Early on Beast builds suspense and positions itself to be a fun thrill ride. However, about mid-way through the film rushes to a silly finale that throws away all believability. When Nate decides to go head to head with the giant lion, the film veers into Fast and Furious territory with its bombast over grounded logic approach.

Beast isn't without a few thrills but overall it fails to be a satisfying film. There should be a shorthand for this type of movie that has you going from wanting the characters to survive to resigning to them meeting a grizzly end due to their illogical actions. At least Jaws: The Revenge had those Michael Cain and Mario Van Peebles performances to keep it fun.



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