Tuesday 6 September 2022

Beast (2022) - Movie Review

I really like carrots. I admit that I don’t eat as healthy as I probably should, but carrots would likely be a foundation for my diet if I were to make any major overhauls. That slight sweetness combined with the crunch when it’s raw and fresh; it’s definitely one of my favourite healthier foods.

But that’s not to say that I could happily live off just carrots. Eating one or two on their own as a snack, sure, but when I sit down for dinner, I’m not likely to just have a plate piled high with raw carrots to eat. They’re good, but there needs to be something more to it. Seasoning, a particular cooking method, some other vegetables and proteins; anything to make it into more of a complete meal.

No, this has not suddenly become Mahan’s Munchies or anything like that. I’m bringing this up because I have a similar attitude to survival movies. Survival as a character drive in a film can be great, and is usually built into the more visceral genres like action and horror. But I’m starting to realise that a film that is just centred on characters surviving a perilous scenario, with all the scripting and production focus being put towards that one aspect, doesn’t do much for me as a viewer or a critic. So you can imagine how not-glowing my review for this survival thriller will be.

Director Baltasar Kormákur has had some solid success with survival yarns recently with Everest and Adrift, and he puts that experience to good use here. There are moments of surreality to do with Nate (Idris Elba)’s fears and traumas, similar to the trippier moments of Adrift, but for the most part, this is a stripped-back and to-the-point feature. Nate and his daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) get lost on safari in South Africa and are set upon by a lion; there you go, there’s your movie.

The film craft involved is quite good. DOP Philippe Rousselot mainly uses long shots here, taking in the beautiful and eventually dangerous South African scenery, and in the ostensibly calmer moments, the camera paces around the characters like even it’s hunting for prey. It helps a lot with the real-time pace of a lot of the scenes, which is a good tension boost. However, once it gets to the night-time scenes (which take up roughly a third of the run time), it feels like a step backwards from all the progress that has collectively been made in lighting films starring Black actors. The transitions from day to night taking the form of orchestra crescendos and smash-cuts don’t help either; it’s like something out of a tacky soap opera.

But besides that last point, this still looks and sounds quite good. Shame that the action is so lacklustre, then. Kormákur spends so much time focusing on the peril itself in the environment and the hideous CGI lion (in sharp contrast to the well-done practical gore effects), but ends up leaving behind the character development that’d make audiences care about who the peril is happening to. Yeah, there’s the high-concept grab of ‘Idris Elba vs. Lion’, but outside of his character being a doctor, I remember just about nothing about him or his daughters by film’s end. I remember more about Sharlto Copley as their guide, although I admit that I have liked him in close to all of the films I’ve seen him in.

I mean, for this kind of creature feature, I guess it does what it needs to do. The production values are (mostly) good, the practical effects are nice and grizzly, and there are whispers of deeper ideas to do with how both humans and lions deal with killers among their own ranks. But personally, when I compare it to films like Crawl or The Shallows, or even Kormákur’s previous films that I’ve looked at, this just comes across as bland and uninteresting. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, and it definitely wins some points back for being as lean as it is, but even as a simple feature, it’s a little too simple for me.

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