Idris Elba and Sharlto Copley star alongside a terrifying CGI lion in “Beast,” a delightfully straightforward survival thriller about the lengths to which creatures will go to protect their family — or to avenge them. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband,” “Everest,” “2 Guns”), “Beast” succeeds due to its focus on a small cast of characters in a limited number of locations. Simply put, the film follows Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels, a man trying to protect his young daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) from a lion with a grudge against humanity. While there’s plenty of subtext and room to interpret the film’s themes, at its core, “Beast” is a horror movie about a man trying to survive against Africa’s apex predator, the “king of the jungle.”
Like “Crawl” before it — with its menacing, hungry alligators — “Beast” is unrelenting in its terror and scarily realistic in its depiction of animal-on-human violence. Thanks to being an entirely CGI creation (no wacky feline bloopers here), the lion moves with a grace and speed that would likely be impossible with a more practical effects approach. Thankfully, the creature is photorealistic enough to genuinely terrify with each appearance it makes. As a result, “Beast” is not a film for the faint of heart, and it’s full of shocking and harrowing moments, with plenty of maiming and death to go around. But which scenes are the gnarliest of the bunch? Well, here are our picks for the most disturbing scenes in “Beast,” ranked from shiver-inducing to really messed-up. (Warning — there are major spoilers below.)
“Beast” follows Dr. Nate Samuels in South Africa with his daughters in an attempt to get closer to them following the death of his ex-wife, the mother of his children. She was from South Africa, so he is trying to get in touch with her roots while introducing his children to her culture. Along for the ride is Nate’s old friend, Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), a wildlife expert who acts as their guide.
However, before they’re introduced, the film opens with a scene featuring the lion’s tragic origin story. The film’s first act of violence isn’t against humans but a pride of lions. A group of poachers quietly sneaks up on a family of lions and ambushes them. Using a zebra corpse as bait, the poachers shoot the creatures without provocation, killing them all, save for a single survivor. The scene is shot in a plain, matter-of-fact manner that shows the barbarism of illegal poaching. It’s not a stylized sequence, and the sight of the dead lions is upsetting and unsettling.
This illegal hunting is the catalyst that sets the whole movie in motion. The single surviving male lion, its entire family murdered, becomes the personification of feline vengeance. With no family left to protect, it dedicates itself to hunting humans, beginning with the poachers who killed its family. Before the film’s opening scene concludes, the lion claims no fewer than two human victims, but there will be many, many more to come before the end.
In addition to the lion, “Beast” boasts a secondary antagonist in the form of a group of poachers. They’re initially introduced alongside the feline in the film’s opening scene, but they reappear later on, when Nate, Martin, and the kids are trapped in their truck in the middle of the night. While they initially seem helpful, if untrustworthy, the poachers’ attitude changes when they find Martin. It had been previously hinted at, but this scene confirms that Martin is an “anti-poacher,” a vigilante who fights against illegal hunting operations. They even claim Martin killed two of their own. But before they can get revenge for their fallen criminal comrades, the lion returns, acting as an unlikely savior to our protagonists and taking out several poachers, though most of the action occurs offscreen.
Alone again, at least for the moment, our heroes decide to steal the poachers’ truck, but there are no keys. Thus, Nate must search the dead bodies of the poachers in order to find the keys. As he sneaks around, he has a close encounter with the lion, at one point hiding just inches away from the apex predator. Eventually, he finally finds the poacher driver, slowly dying from deep, bloody wounds. His injuries are shown in grisly detail, and it’s clear his death is imminent. All told, it’s an intense scene and a reminder that deadly animals aren’t the only threats in the veldt.
While the lion is teased in the opening sequence and it later attacks Martin offscreen, the beast makes its proper debut when it tries to kill Nate and his daughters in the truck. Like most of the intense sequences in the film, this attack is captured in an extended “oner” — an uninterrupted take where the camera moves around and follows the action without cutting away.
While an entirely CGI creation, the lion is stunningly realistic when it launches its brutal assault on the vehicle that Nate and his family are sheltering inside. At one point, it even makes it through the window and rips a chunk out of Nate’s leg, resulting in an injury that slows him down for the rest of the film. The younger daughter, Norah (Leah Jeffries), is able to drive the truck in a panicked scramble to escape the lion, but they don’t get far before she crashes into a tree, leaving the vehicle dangling precariously off the side of a steep hill. Still, they’re safe for now.
This inaugural attack marks the first time the audience really gets to see what the lion is capable of and what the filmmakers are capable of achieving, and “Beast” does not disappoint. The initial attack is as exhilarating as it is harrowing, and it sets a gold standard for all the subsequent action sequences in the film.
Of the four main characters, the one with the most knowledge on how to survive is wildlife biologist Martin Battles, affectionately called “Uncle Martin” by Nate’s daughters. Naturally, this means he’s the first to be crippled by the lion. Martin gets ambushed by the big cat, though the movie cuts away before revealing just how the encounter plays out. Eventually, Martin is able to reach Nate and the girls via his radio, and it’s revealed that he was injured by the lion so he could serve as a trap. This serves as an echo of the film’s opening sequence, with poor Martin taking the place of the fresh zebra carcass. He’s bait, meant to lure in other targets.
Nate is ultimately able to rescue his friend, and Martin winds up proving indispensable to the group’s efforts even while his leg is torn to shreds. Still, this is the moment where the characters (and the audience) realize they’re not dealing with a regular lion. Instead, they’re dealing with a beast that’s driven by something more primal. It’s ironic because if the lion had just killed Martin outright, then Nate and his daughters might not have been able to survive the rest of the movie on their own, without his aid and advice. In this way, the lion’s intelligence proves to be its own undoing.
While Martin is able to escape death during his first encounter with the lion, his luck eventually runs out. While Nate is away, searching for keys to steal the poachers’ truck, the characters in the car are attacked by the lion yet again. Martin instructs the girls to leave the vehicle, which is precariously hanging off the side of a steep hill. Norah and Mere (Iyana Halley) are able to get out, though not before Mere sustains a deep and bloody scratch across her torso. Still, they fare better than Martin in the long run.
During the scuffle between Martin and the lion inside the car, the weight shifts enough to cause the vehicle to fall down the hill, landing in a wreck of twisted metal, with gasoline leaking everywhere. There’s no way out, so Martin waits for the lion to launch its final attack on him … and then he ignites his lighter, causing the whole vehicle to erupt in flames. Martin quickly burns to death, and the lion is severely injured in the explosion. For the remainder of the film, the lion sports gnarly burn scars, and it’s somewhat weakened by its injuries.
In the end, Martin goes out with respect for his foe, even apologizing before setting off the explosion that kills himself and weakens the lion. After all, the lion hates poachers about as much as Martin does, even if it’s wrongly extended its grudge to include all of humanity.
After the lion thoroughly messes up some poachers, Nate and his daughters take off in their truck, leaving a whole lot of carnage behind. They backtrack to a location they visited earlier in the movie, before all the attacks, where they’d encountered a pride of lions nearby an abandoned children’s school. They’re low on gas and decide to take shelter in this empty school, which they learn has become a secret hideout for poachers. The whole building is littered with skinned animals and other sick trophies procured by the evil hunters. It’s likely the hideout was used by the same poachers who were brutally (but justifiably) massacred by the titular beast earlier in the film.
As Nate looks for medical supplies to treat the injured Mere, he’s silently stalked by the vengeful cat. Once again, the action is presented as an extended long take, with the lion frequently appearing out of focus in the background, allowing the audience to recognize the danger long before Nate realizes he’s being hunted. However, once he realizes what’s going on, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Knowing that the lion will never stop chasing him and his daughters, he instructs them to hide in the school while he draws the beast’s attention and runs outside, ready for the final fight of man vs. lion. But while the scene sets up the climax, we’re still shaken by the suspense of the stalking and the image of the poachers’ lair, and we’re left feeling a bit sick before the big showdown.
The first time the lion attacked the car in “Beast,” its occupants were relatively safe inside of the jeep (Nate’s shredded leg notwithstanding). For the second attack, “Beast” ups the ante by having Nate outside of the truck, armed with a tranquilizer rifle. He’s standing on the roof of the vehicle, scanning his surroundings for any sign of the killer cat. By the time he sees it, it’s already too late, as it’s running right at him. As the lion charges, Nate fires off a tranquilizer dart, but he’s no marksman, and the shot goes wide. Eventually, he’s chased underneath the car, moving from side to side to avoid swipes from the lion, all while his precious firearm is just out of reach.
Eventually, the lion is shooed away when Nate’s younger daughter, Norah, reaches out of the window and stabs the lion with a loose tranquilizer dart, no gun required. The lion skitters away, temporarily defeated. Martin told Nate that a tranquilizer dark should knock the lion out for several hours, but the lion returns within just a few minutes. It’s either a particularly tough lion or the power of its hatred against humanity is enough for it to shrug off a knock-out dart. In any case, if it wasn’t clear already, this lion doesn’t play by the normal rules of nature, which is about as disturbing as it gets.
The premise of “Beast” can be summarized as “Idris Elba vs. a lion.” This final showdown lives up to that promise and more. After numerous chases and intense sequences, Nate is done running and decides to face the cat head-on, in a final battle to the death. Despite sustaining numerous injuries over the course of the film, including getting badly burned in Martin’s explosion, the lion is more than a match for an injured middle-aged doctor, and the fight is very one-sided. Even so, Nate manages to get some good hits in, stabbing the lion multiple times and even slugging it in the face with a mighty punch. Still, he’s clawed all over, and it becomes quickly apparent that he’s not going to win the fight.
However, Nate has one last trick up his sleeve. He was never trying to defeat the lion in a one-on-one fight. It was never about the battle itself but about the battlefield. Nate and the lion are fighting on the territory of a different pride of lions, and lions are fiercely territorial creatures. This was foreshadowed earlier in the film, where Martin remarked that lions protect their pride with a single-minded devotion, killing anything that dares interfere with a pride’s family unit. Nate is armed with little more than hope and a prayer (and a marginally effective knife), but it’s enough for him to survive long enough for the nearby pride of lions to take notice. But while it’s a happy ending for our heroes, seeing Nate get so thoroughly mauled by the big feline is hard to watch, showing that “Beast” really knows how to play out the tension.
Having intruded onto the territory of another pride, the main lion is quickly attacked by the pride’s pair of male defenders. In its weakened state, the big bad beast is quickly killed by the lions defending their territory, though the scene cuts away before the audience gets to see the killing blow. It’s a bit odd for the film to not show the death of its primary antagonist, especially given the bittersweet nature of its death. The lion only went crazy after its own pride was killed by poachers, and now it meets its own end after infringing on the territory of another pride. All the while, everything Nate does is to protect his own family. In the end, “Beast” isn’t just about how far one can go to protect their family but how far one will go when they lose their family. “Beast’s” tagline, “fight for family,” isn’t just a fancy alliteration — it’s the central theme of the movie.
When Nate wakes up, he’s in the hospital, covered in bandages. Thankfully, Mere’s wounds have been successfully treated. The final shot of the film, set sometime later, shows him and his daughters admiring the untamed landscape of the South African wilderness. Nate is walking with assistance from a cane, but he’s otherwise shown to be well on the road to recovery from his numerous injuries. Despite the harrowing terror that pervades nearly the entire 95-minute runtime of “Beast,” at least it has a happy, uplifting ending — for the humans anyway. As for the lion, while we’re glad he didn’t kill our heroes, we can’t help but feel a little sad for the big guy.
The scariest scene in “Beast” is effective because it doesn’t feature any overt violence on its own, but it instills a sense of dread that builds to a terrifying reveal. Before Nate and his family first meet the lion, they encounter the aftermath of its wrath. Nate, Martin, and the girls come across a village but are surprised at the conspicuous absence of any villagers. They look around, but the whole location is a ghost town.
However, when they look a little closer, they find a large group of bodies, viciously mauled by the lion. While the audience is spared the sight of any onscreen killings, we nonetheless get to see the grisly aftermath, with rotting, bloodied corpses decaying under the intense heat of the hot African sun. Worst of all, the bodies weren’t even eaten. After all, the lion doesn’t kill for food or even for sport — it only kills for revenge, having associated all humans with the poachers who murdered its family. The lion is officially on a rampage. With its family gone, all it has left is its single-minded lust for vengeance against humankind. This haunting and unnerving scene does a fantastic job of setting the stage for the rest of the movie.