A vengeful lion eradicates humans in the delightfully cheesy, derivative thriller 'Beast'

“Beast” - ★ ★ ½

What? You missed Stephen King's 1983 movie “Cujo” with a rabid St. Bernard menacing a parent and child trapped in a car?

And you forgot the scary kitchen scene and the sneaky velociraptor baiting scene from “Jurassic Park”?

No worries.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur's breezy, off-white-knuckle creature feature “Beast” has got you covered with homages to those two movies, along with plot elements strongly suggesting a mammalian version of “Jaws.”

(If you doubt the “Jurassic Park” connection, note the prominently placed “Jurassic Park” T-shirt worn by one of the teenage daughters here.)

This delightfully cheesy and derivative mano-a-pede (“hand to paw”) survival thriller arrives just in time for what used to be called the Dog Days of Summer, when Hollywood dumped its C- and D-list movies in August just before its primary audiences returned to school.

“Beast” stands better than most traditional Dog Day entries. It offers a few well-timed jump-scares, a suspense-building score, and Philippe Rousselot's immersive POV and tracking shots that physically place us into frightful scenes of danger and carnage.

Then again, “Beast” almost qualifies as a comedy of errors as its characters constantly make the worst decisions under terrible circumstances.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) brings his teenage daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries) to South Africa where he met his wife, recently deceased after a bout with cancer.

He takes them to a game reserve operated by an old buddy named Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), a wildlife biologist who refers to himself as “an enforcer.”

After an obligatory humanizing back story where the teens accuse dad of abandoning his family just as their mom became ill, “Beast” launches into full-on thriller mode when a vengeful male lion takes on the human race after machine-gun-toting poachers wipe out his entire pride and joy.

This time, it's personal.

Dr. Nate Samuelson (Idris Elba) tries to figure out how to escape from the killer lion in the thriller "Beast." Courtesy of Universal Pictures

During a drive through the scenic game reserve, Battles and the Samuels discover an encampment attacked by something that ripped and chewed the occupants to pieces. They soon discover a bleeding survivor along the road muttering “beast” and “devil.”

Does Battles put the man in their vehicle and whisk him off for immediate medical help?

No. Instead, he insists on leaving the poor guy to bleed to death while he grabs a rifle and goes hunting for a growly lion heard in the distance.


Battles does live to see the error of his ways when the ginormous feline later traps him, Nate, Meredith and Norah in their wrecked safari vehicle dangling on the precipice of a cliff.

This sequence, the best in Kormákur's movie, supplies the most suspense as Nate takes an ill-timed moment to leave the vehicle, and quickly becomes trapped under it while the resident predator savagely attempts to pull him out.

Again, this sequence recalls a similar scene in Steven Spielberg's better executed “Jurassic Park,” and the obvious comparison does not do “Beast” justice.

Even Spielberg's creatures seem more realistically detailed than the computer-generated uncowardly lion here. It looks realistic enough (for a Dog Days of Summer release), but still lacks the visceral verisimilitude of an actual St. Bernard (with egg whites on his jowls for a rabid appearance) trying to kill a woman and her son in “Cujo.”

If something else is missing from “Beast,” it would be a sense of true terror from the characters, whose appropriate screams fall short of the abject fright registered by the actors in “The Blair Witch Project.”

As far as rogue killer lion movies go, “Beast” slightly tops “The Ghost and the Darkness” (male lions turn railroad workers into snacks in 1898 East Africa) and “Savage Harvest” (a pride of ravenous African lions, driven to desperation by a drought, replaces humans at the top of the food chain).

Even so, astute movie fans won't be surprised by much in “Beast,” operating on a plot every bit as fresh and inventive as its overused title.

Starring: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Sharlto Copley, Leah Jeffries

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur

Other: A Universal Pictures release in theaters. Rated R for language, violence. 93 minutes

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