Beast: A Critical Analysis from Aesthetics to Audience Reviews

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By:Hatab Fadera

This article offers a critical analysis of Beast, a 2022 American survival thriller film that features Gambian international kora virtuoso, Sona Jobarteh. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur from a screenplay by Ryan Engle, and based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan, the film stars Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Sava Jeffries, and Sharlto Copley. The story follows a widowed father and his two teenage daughters who visit a South African game reserve, Mopani Reserve, but must fight to survive when they are stalked and attacked by a ferocious, rogue, bloodthirsty lion (“Beast (2022 American Film),” 2022). Beast was released in the United States on August 19, 2022, by Universal Pictures. The film has grossed $59 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics (“Beast (2022 American Film),” 2022)

The analysis of this movie indicates a narrative arc anchored on three themes: family healing, friendship, and human-wild relationship.

Family 

For Dr. Nate and his two daughters, the trip to Africa was meant to reconnect and make up together over the loss of his wife and mother to Norah and Meredith. Nate was particularly meant to make up for his two daughters after being “absent” during the sick days of their mother. “She got sick, you missed it because you had already left us,” Meredith, the elder daughter, confronted her dad, who retorted by saying, “Your mother and I decided to mutually separate and then she got sick.”

However, as the storyline unfolds, it appears that the vacation was to present the gravest test yet to their family.  The interactions between Nate and his daughters, especially with Meredith, show a family that was yet to heal from their devastation. A scene demonstrating that lack of healing and suspicion was the seemingly bitter argument that emerged between Nate and Meredith at the start of the movie, shortly after arriving at their friend, Martin’s, house. Norah, the younger daughter, was mostly quiet during that night’s conversation. Nevertheless, her decision to boycott the night after Meredith held their father accountable for his absence demonstrates the silent agony that Norah had to endure over the loss of their mom.

Even in the scariest scenes, the resentment, especially from Meredith, towards her father, would manifest in full display. One such scene was when the three were attacked by the vicious lion and trapped in the car. As they figured out what to do to help their friend, Nate promised the girls that the situation would be resolved. But Meredith, remembering a failed promise from their father over their mom, rebutted him from making yet another promise he could not keep. 

As far as this analysis is concerned, fate had to test this family of three in such an excruciating situation to close ranks and heal over the loss of their loved one. Fundamentally, it appears even a major trial for Dr. Nate, once again, fate putting him in a situation where he is being tested to fight for his survival to save his two orphaned daughters. The scenes showcase the extent a father could go to protect his kids. Since the storyline seems to suggest a crack in Nate’s relationship with his now-deceased wife, the trip was a second chance for Nate. This is why throughout the movie, interjecting scenes that appear to Nate in dreams seem to suggest an unforgiving deceased wife. But having protected his daughters, a dream occurred to Nate in his recovery bed showing a forgiving deceased wife. In a nutshell, a dire situation had to happen before the family could heal.

Friendship

The second theme focuses on friendship, featuring Martin Battles, manager of the game reserve, as a family friend to Nate. The scenes depict moments that indicate the extent friends could go to save each other. For example, when Martin, the custodian of the area, was trapped and badly injured after trying to hunt down the marauding lion, Nate and his two daughters put their own lives at risk to save their friend. Even though Martin warned them not to try to save him as he came face to face with the lion, Nate and his daughters were unwavering, refusing to be cowered. As they raced against time and scrambled for weapons to neutralize the lion, wounded Martin was running out of options, too. One of the striking scenes was Meredith’s decision to leave the car to rush for Martin’s help. Another brave scene was Norah’s fearless stabbing of the lion with what looks like an injection during a struggle between Nate and the marauder, causing the lion to temporary retreat.

Elsewhere, Martin also returned the gratitude when the relentless lion, having recovered from the injection, pursued them again. Still badly injured, Martin, this time, puts his own life at risk to save Meredith and Nora who ran to the nearby poachers’ Land Rover truck. And when the car in which Martin held the lion finally fell into the cleft, Martin detonated a hand explosive in an attempt to put an end to this encounter for the sake of his friends.

Human-wild relationship

A very important theme for this movie is how the relationship between humans and wildlife is being shaped by the former’s continuous overreaches against the latter. The movie demonstrates the acrimonious relationship between humans and nature’s inhabitants, building on similar movies like the Zoo. Zoo, an American drama television series based on the 2012 novel of the same name, features a group of varied professionals who investigate the mysterious outbreak of violent animal attacks upon humans all over the world (Zoo (TV Series), n.d.). Both the Beast and Zoo share distinct narrative arcs (albeit some differences), demonstrating what could happen if the wild animals feel threatened by human actions. That is why Martin could be heard in the Beast saying, “I have never seen anything like this; cats don’t do this.” Martin made the comments after they came across a small village where the lion obliterated the entire village. Martin feels “lions don’t do this” as he reacts to the savagely butchered human bodies by the raging lion. The bodies were in such bad shapes that both Martin and Nate agreed the kids could not see the gruesomeness that visited that thatch-built tiny village. The actions of the poachers caused the lion’s violent reactions, leaving in its wake, a pile of badly pierced human bodies.

The takeaway from this theme is that humans and wild animals must co-exist in an environment where the lines or limitations are drawn.

While this analysis finds the above three themes as the main focus of this movie, there are other sub-themes. For example, the movie also promotes professional ethics. And this is demonstrated when Nate came across a badly injured man, who escaped from the clutches of the lion. Despite clearly knowing that the lion was within the horizon, Nate decided to attend to the man’s wounds in an attempt to fruitlessly save him. The man would later succumb to his wounds.

Aesthetics

The deliberate design of starting the movie with night scenes was a great aesthetic decision by the producers. The grunts of an invincible lion pride in the dark, the footfall as the poachers slowly made their move, and the low-key lighting were all designed to create anxiety and suspense, thus preparing the audience for what lies ahead. The lighting in this scene appeared to have come from torchlights and those coming from the direction of the camera. The convergence of these lights creates perfect low-key lighting scenes. The producers’ decision to infuse a local African dialect enhances the story’s authenticity given that the game reserve is located in Africa.

The producers’ decision to feature a piece of African music by renowned international artiste Sona Jobarteh as Nate woke up from his dream in the South African airspace, was very creative. The timing could not have been correct. The melodious voice of Sona Jobarteh and her kora-inspired music have given the movie a tremendous aesthetic feel. Since the visit was to Africa, it was apt that a piece of African music is at the start of that visit.

A very innovative aesthetic decision in the movie was the use of photos and graphics to tell an important story – Nate’s relationship with her deceased wife. Upon arriving at Martin’s house, Nate and the two daughters stumbled on creative artistic wall photos and graphics of their mom. What this conveys is that the mom’s relationship with Nate would be a critical theme throughout this movie.

A creative scene that boosts the movie’s aesthetic was the use of the sunrise lighting as the day unfolds for an eventful encounter for Martin and his three guests. For most of the tour of the reserve game, the producers appear to depend on only natural lighting. This is because the setting – a mountainous site – seems perfect for natural light production. Meanwhile, low-key lighting, generated from torchlights and vehicular lamps, was used for the night scenes featuring Martin and his three guests in the trapped car. Scenes that feature Nate’s search for the keys to the truck were also created using low-key lighting.

At the poachers’ lodge, the display of various animal parts creates a compelling aesthetic scene, indicating the extent to which poachers are involved in the trade.

Technology

An enthralling movie, Beast made use of good technology to create captivating scenes. For example, good-quality drone footage was used. One such drone footages feature Nate on the sunroof top of the vehicle as he tries to hunt down the lion. The animation was also used in some scenes. For example, the producers used animation to create a scene that features a swarm of small birds swirling around a tree as Nate and his two daughters set to take a photo. The sound, editing, and transitions are creatively done to create compelling visuals.

Location

The location or settings for this movie are apt considering Africa’s reputation and name for game reserves. Africa has long been known as the best continent in the world for wildlife viewing. Within Africa, several countries deliver outstanding photographic safari experiences, each with its unique benefits and differences (The Wild Source, n.d.) (The Wild Source, 2022). Additionally, it is also befitting that South Africa was particularly chosen given that it is among the top 10 destinations in Africa for safaris (Exodus Travels, 2020).

Things to Improve

By all accounts, this is a great production. However, this analysis discovers certain issues that could have been made better to strengthen the movie. For example, the producers failed to indicate what type of African language was being spoken. They only translated the said language without letting the audience know what African dialect was being spoken. The producers could have written on the screen the African dialect being spoken as has been the case in many productions.

Relatedly, except for the translation of the African dialect that was spoken in the starting scenes, there were virtually no subtitles for this movie. In an age where the industry tries to cater to inclusion and diversity, it was a great production oversight from the producers to ignore subtitles. Persons living with deafness or hard of hearing will not be able to watch this movie.

Some scenes have seemingly loud background music, which tended to interfere with the conversation.

Also, since the family visited a restricted area of the game reserve, there was no sign or any visual representation to communicate that. The audience only knows that this is a restricted area through conversations. For persons with deafness, it will be hard for them to follow.

Some scenes gave the audience an easy prediction of what was to come. For example, it was simplistic for Nate to risk his and his daughters’ lives to search for keys to a badly needed poachers’ vehicle. Instead of venturing into the woods, Nate could have simply hotwired the vehicle. But his decision to search for the key was meant to create scenes of another encounter with the lion. The producers could have made Nate hotwire the vehicle. This would have left the audience in suspense as to what scenes would ensue.

Audiences

The target audiences for this movie would be horror lovers and those who are interested in wildlife. And the message it conveys to the audience varies. However, the key messages would include the importance of family and care, what true friendship means, and the all-important need for humans and wildlife to co-exist.

This analysis finds mixed reactions from the audience. A Google rating based on the reviews gives the movie three stars or 3.0 over 5.0 (Review of Beast Movie – Google Search, n.d.).

Spreadability

This paper also finds this movie spreadable. Spreadability, part of the seven principles of Transmedia Storytelling, is the ability and degree to which the content is shareable and the motivating factors for a person to share that content (Jenkins, 2010). In the context of this, the biggest boost to this movie was given by the “King of TikTok” (Stokel-Walker, 2022), Khaby Lame, who boasts over 150 million followers on TikTok. Khaby made a one-minute video, featuring the main protagonist, Edris Elba. The video features the scenes when the lion attacked Idris and the ensuing struggles that followed. That video garners 2.6 million reactions, 15.5K comments, 64,000 saves, and around 9,000 shares.

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