The wild and dangerous animals that inhabit our world have inspired (and long been fodder for) creature features. Particularly in the action, or horror genres where the suspense and thrill of the hunt can really ratchet-up the tension. Opening in Australian cinemas this week is Beast; an adventure-thriller featuring the enigmatic Idris Elba taking on a vicious lion.
When poachers hunt and kill a local Tsongan pride of lions, the sole surviving male lion goes on a rampage, killing locals and everything in its path within the Mopani sanctuary. Recently widowed, Dr Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) alongside his two grieving daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries) decides to visit his ex-wife’s homeland of South Africa for a catch up with old family friend Martin (Sharlto Copley).
This trip away is an attempt for Nate to reconnect with his daughters during a period of grieving. However, proceedings quickly turn into a fight for survival when the rogue lion seriously stalks before attacking the foursome. This becomes the impetus sparking Nate to step-up and protect his family.
Beast keeps things basic with a rapid fire screenplay by Ryan Engle, adapted from an original story from Jaime Primak Sullivan. Director Baltasar Kormakur, has the film running lean at a tight at 93 minutes, featuring decent action and constant suspense. Thematically the film explores an emotional journey of grief, both that of Nate’s guilt as an absentee father, whilst also focussing on the lion’s loss at the hand of poachers.
The core enjoyment though derives from the growing dread and heightened suspense of this huge, deadly wildcat hunting its prey.
Hollywood has explored similar films where an animal gets to take the spotlight, illuminating the consequences of humans battling against nature’s predators. Obviously the most notable with similarities to Beast, is Stephen Hopkins’ 1996 film, The Ghost And The Darkness.
Based on a chilling true story; It follows a pair of male lions that terrorise workers in and around Tsavo during the construction of the Uganda- Mombasa railway in 1898.
Cinema’s most famous shark story, Jaws (1975), paved the way for so many evil and vicious shark films. My personal favourite Deep Blue Sea(1999) remains memorable for the audacity of having genetically manipulated hyper intelligent sharks and the ensuing chaos that occurs after the facility where they are being kept is overwhelmed.
Also released in 1999 is Lake Placid, which features a gigantic crocodile that decides to take issue with campers, tourists and the locals of Black Lake, Maine, when they begin encroaching on its watery territory.
When it comes to jungle monsters, another supersize beast is the semi-aquatic snake in Anaconda (1997). It slowly but surely strikes down the people that have dared disturbed its Amazonian nest. (Through the power of questionable CGI! – .Ed)
In, The Grey (2011) impressive Liam Neeson and a group of oil workers find themselves in peril when stranded after a plane crash in Alaska. Surviving a constant snowstorm is the least of their dilemmas as a pack of hungry wolves begin stalking the exposed, selfless group.
The Alaskan wilderness also conceals grizzly bears, one of which features in The Edge (1997) starring Hollywood heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin alongside Australian, Elle Macpherson.
Locally, cult classic Razorback (1984), and more recent feature Boar (2017), convey extremely angry wild pigs in the outback terrorising innocent bystanders with some gruesome deaths. For all of Australia’s native wild and deadly creatures, it remains an interesting note that both of those homegrown natural horrors focus on an introduced pest species.
Over the ditch, our New Zealand neighbours were a little more self deprecating with their choice of vicious animal. In 2006’s Black Sheep the genetically mutated livestock become aggressive carnivores that attack humans and then turn us into bloodthirsty half-sheep monsters. Even though the reality of this situation is highly unlikely, it’s somewhat amusing to imagine.
With no shortage of animals in the animal kingdom to choose from, we’ll be certain to continue seeing films that pit humans against predators.
Beast (2022) is now showing in cinemas through Universal Pictures Australia.