Movie review

In the forest, the gnarly forest, the lion … well, the lion wants to rip, rend, shred and claw every last human he can get his paws onto and his fangs into.

The lion has his reasons. In “Beast,” the lion is mightily peeved at people, particularly poachers, who invaded his territory and slaughtered his females and young’uns.

Set in South Africa, “Beast,” you see, is a cautionary ecological tale writ large, in red.

Although the picture was shot on location in South Africa, it offers no insights into the Africans or their culture. The natives, villagers and poachers alike, are consigned solely to the role of lion kibble.

Into the lion’s territory, all unaware, comes American surgeon Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and his teen daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries). They’ve come to visit the homeland of the doctor’s late wife and the girls’ mom who has recently died of cancer. The family dynamics here are a little shaky as Meredith harbors huge resentment toward her dad for having largely been absent during the mother’s losing battle against the disease following the couple’s divorce. 

With that fraught familial setup, director Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”), working from a screenplay credited to Ryan Engle, plunges the characters into the bush where the lion, they quickly discover, is running rampant. 

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Along for the fear-filled ride is an old family friend and African game warden played by Sharlto Copley. The man is a lover of lions whose love is reciprocated by the beasts who actually rush up and hug him. Really. Raised them from clubs, he did. And yes, that’s hard to swallow. And that’s not the only part of the picture that resists easy digestion. 

The lion in question, a wholly computer-generated creation (quite realistic looking), is a sort of super predator who lurks, leaps and lunges with almost supernatural ferocity as he tries to get at the family even if he has to practically eat the car they’re cowering in to do so. 

This is a movie where everyone seems to be afflicted with a severe case of the stupids. Dad to kids, repeatedly: “Stay in the car.” Naturally, they don’t, repeatedly. 

Snarl, roar, leap, lunge. 

Run! Flee! Evade! Screech! 

Panic, panic, panic. 

Inside the increasingly battered and shattered vehicle, during a pause amid the panic, panic, panic, the characters take time out for some family therapy. Meredith guilt trips her dad for not having been around when his wife needed him most. And poor old dad abashedly admits that was too true and sorrowfully seeks to make amends with his kids. 

Then it’s back to roar, lunge, rending of metal, breaking of glass and — you guessed it — more panic, panic, panic.   

Elba, always a powerful presence in whatever role he takes on, does the best he can in “Beast,” but the threadbare nature of the plotting and dialogue ultimately defeats him. 

“Beast” ★½ (out of four)

With Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries, Sharlto Copley. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. 93 minutes. R for violent content, bloody images and some language. Opens Aug. 19 at multiple theaters.

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