From Jaws to Deep Blue Sea and The Meg, sharks have made their mark on the silver screen over the years as probably Hollywood’s favourite terrifying predator to pull out of Old Mother Earth’s locker – but they haven’t been the ‘animal attack’ genre’s only stars.
Crocs have also seen their fair share of the spotlight. Who could forget 1999’s Lake Placid? Bill Pullman and Brendan Gleeson vs a 30ft saltwater beast – happy doo-dah days! And then of course there was 2007’s Black Water – less known, but in fact inspired by the true story of a crocodile attack in Australia.
There have been many tongue-in-cheek efforts over the years, with Kelly Brook fighting off prehistoric piranhas, J-Lo vs a giant anaconda, and Samuel L. Jackson in the flight and fight of his life against some particularly slippery foes. Yet many creature features have stood up as legitimate, plot-driven blockbusters. Exhibit A: Jurassic Park. Case closed, your honour.
Whenever a new flick pitting man against nature’s deadliest creations (they aren’t really ‘baddies’, of course) arrives, it should be time for all bona fide movie fans to get at least a little excited. These films are part of the truly fun side of cinema, and there are few other genres of movie that can consistently get our hearts pumping, make us laugh and also have us screaming with terror in equal measure.
With this, we give a right royal welcome this week to Beast – a new walk on the wild side from director Baltasar Kormákur, pitting our own Idris Elba against a real leviathan of a lion. Is this one packing just the bite we need for the bank holiday weekend?
Let’s take a closer look...
BEAST (15, 93 mins)
Released: August 26 (UK & Ireland)
Alfred Hitchcock masterfully pitted mankind against Mother Nature in his 1963 horror The Birds and Steven Spielberg turned fearful eyes from the air to the water with the streamlined 1975 blockbuster Jaws.
Creatures great and small make perfect cinematic villains – witness the carnage in Piranha, The Swarm, Cujo, Arachnophobia and Snakes On A Plane – and Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur walks on the wild side with a digitally rendered lion in his blood-soaked survival thriller filmed on location in South Africa
The murderous big cat in Beast is the sole survivor of a night-time massacre by poachers and scriptwriter Ryan Engle wastes little time feeding the gun-toting villains to the ferocious feline shortly after one thug examines a paw print and surmises, “He’s a big one. Better get him or he’ll come after us!”
However, the king of the jungle meets his match in Idris Elba.
The London-born actor spends 90 minutes going fist to jaw with the lion to protect his family during a nightmarish safari that was supposed to be a healing exercise for his grief-stricken brood.
Stupidity rules characters’ actions.
One teenager daughter, who purportedly inherited her late mother’s fighting spirit, repeatedly leaves the vehicle that separates her from the roaring man-eater and Elba’s father serves up his children on a platter by allowing them to fall asleep in a location with no protection from attack. It’s hard not to root for the leonine antagonist. Dr Nate Daniels (Elba) is recently widowed and determined to salve the wounds of his two daughters, 18-year-old Meredith (Iyana Halley) and 13-year-old Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries), by travelling with them to South Africa, where he first met the girls’ mother Amahle (Naledi Mogadime).
The grieving father blames himself for being absent when death came a-knocking on his family’s door.
Amahle lost a hard-fought battle against cancer during their separation.
The fractured clan travels to a game reserve managed by old family friend Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), who acts as an “enforcer” against poachers.
Nate, Martin and the girls encounter a rogue lion, which views all humans as prey, and the unfortunate interlopers face a nerve-shredding fight against the savannah’s apex predator.
Beast abides by the rules of the cinematic jungle (a hero with a profession or skill that gives them a fighting chance of survival, a back story tinged with tragedy, preferably at least one cute child in peril, a steady supply of nameless, sacrificial characters).
Elba showcases emotional vulnerability in between tense action sequences including a claustrophobic set-piece in a stranded jeep that nods reverentially to Jurassic Park.
MR MALCOLM’S LIST (PG, 118 mins)
Released: August 26 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)
Shot on location in Ireland a few months after the first series of Netflix’s glossy period romance Bridgerton set tightly-corseted hearts aflutter, Mr Malcolm’s List also dabbles in society scandal, class warfare and convoluted love matches among the pompous and privileged of Regency-era London.
Author Suzanne Allain rifles merrily through the pages of her 2009 novel for a frothy script that contemplates whether the search for a perfect partner can be manipulated or must be entrusted to chance.
Like its streaming service counterpart, director Emma Holly Jones’s film has an extremely handsome countenance and waltzes wish fulfilment around the ballroom, empowering diverse female characters to ignore stuffy gender conventions in the service of enduring love.
Cinematographer Tony Miller opens a chocolate box of swoon-inducing vignettes: lingering glances in a moonlit orangery, bonneted promenades around an impeccably tended park, a candle-lit masquerade ball, and a mighty steed galloping across green fields to reunite feuding lovers.
Bosoms heave (modestly, to ensure the PG certificate), ladies swoon and lovestruck archetypes couple neatly in combinations that are inevitable from the onset including a long-suffering footman (Divian Ladwa) and housemaid (Sianad Gregory), who despair almost as much as us at the upstairs machinations.
Mr Malcolm’s List presents itself as fanciful escapism with occasional zinging lines of dialogue and remains steadfast and true to that crowd-pleasing nature.
London’s most eligible bachelor, Jeremy Malcolm (Sope Dirisu), is keen to weed out social climbers and fortune hunters, who desire his family fortune.
He judges potential love matches against a secret list of 10 personality traits and accomplishments including an education based on extensive reading, a musical or artistic talent, and a forgiving nature.
Mr Malcolm rejects Julia Thistlewaite (Zawe Ashton) for her lack of political nous.
“I will see to it that the honourable Mr Malcolm receives what he deserves,” she seethes.
With her cousin Lord Cassidy (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as a reluctant accomplice, Julia beckons good friend Selina Dalton (Freida Pinto) to London and entreats the clergyman’s daughter to embody Mr Malcolm’s ideal match then publicly reject him once the bachelor has fallen under her spell.
A spiteful scheme seldom unfolds as intended and Julia’s tangled web unexpectedly ensnares dashing military officer Captain Henry Ossory (Theo James) and giggling chatterbox Gertie Covington (Ashley Park).
Mr Malcolm’s List maintains a leisurely trot as misunderstandings are remedied and smartly attired protagonists learn valuable lessons about humility and forgiveness.
THE INVITATION (15, 104 mins)
Released: August 26 (UK & Ireland)
A wedding turns out to be the most costly mistake of a young woman’s life in a horror thriller directed by Jessica M Thompson and written by Blair Butler.
Following the death of her mother, orphan Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is alone in the world and desperate for an emotional connection to a blood relative.
She takes a DNA test and learns she has a long-lost cousin from England called Oliver (Hugh Skinner).
He invites Evie to a lavish countryside wedding on the other side of the Atlantic where the rest of the family are waiting to meet her.
Initially, Evie is seduced by her new surroundings and the amorous advances of sexy aristocrat Walter (Thomas Doherty).
However, she quickly learns that the upstairs downstairs fantasy is too good to be true.
OFFICIAL COMPETITION (15, 115 mins)
Released: August 26 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)
Business mogul Humberto Suarez (Jose Luis Gomez) approaches award-winning filmmaker Lola Cuevas (Penelope Cruz) with a tantalising proposition.
He will finance an adaptation of a cherished literary work, believing the cinematic masterpiece will become his artistic legacy.
Humberto allows Lola to take full control of casting and she selects two polar opposites, stage actor Ivan Torres (Oscar Martinez) and dashing film star Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), as her leads.
Lola brings Ivan and Felix together for an intense nine-day rehearsal to exploit the men’s mutual animosity for on-screen tension.
The filmmaker’s best-laid plan pushes all three creatives to breaking point in a satire of the artistic process directed by Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn.