Family comes together to survive in Baltasar KormÁkur’s Beast

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Family comes together to survive in Baltasar KormÃkurâs Beast
Beast tells the story about a widowed father, Dr. Nate Samuels (played by Idris Elba), who takes his two daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) to a game reserve, only to find themselves hunted down by a rogue lion.
STAR / File

Just like the relentlessness of the central characters in Beast, nothing could stop director Baltasar Kormákur from helming this safari thriller about a man who faces off with a rogue lion to protect his children.

As it turned out, it was a childhood dream come true from the award-winning Icelandic filmmaker.

“Yeah, as a kid, I used to cut out pictures of lions in Africa and put them in a little folder. My mother brought it out when I told her about, you know, I was gonna make this movie. So, obviously, it was something that came from deep inside,” Kormákur told the press during a virtual roundtable ahead of the film’s theatrical premiere.

“One of the things I’ve been fascinated about Africa is the flora and the fauna there. So when this came about, I was like, yes, there’s nothing in me that would stop me from going there and doing this,” he said.

A survival film that serves “man versus beast” horror and terror from start to finish, Beast tells the story about a widowed father, Dr. Nate Samuels (played by Idris Elba), who takes his two daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) to a game reserve, only to find themselves hunted down by a rogue lion hellbent on proving that the savannah has but one apex predator.

“I love that ‘man versus nature,’ ‘man versus beast’ (story), anything visceral and that you can kind of smell and feel. Making a visceral movie experience for audiences is something I’ve been kind of drawn to,” said Kormákur, whose trademark works are visceral and experimental movies like Universal’s Everest, 2 Guns and Contraband.

Just to be sure, no actual lions were used for the principal photography nor in scenes where humans are seen interacting with them. Footage of real lions was used only for visual-reference purposes, the production notes said. All the lions, especially the film’s main antagonist — a ferocious beast with a body the length of a car and paws the size of a soccer ball — were created through state-of the-art visual effects. The production enlisted the help of people behind such blockbuster films as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Visual effects aside, Kormákur emphasized that it was a long and detailed process in creating the lion “as a character first and foremost.” These included shaping its backstory, which took months of research and looking into the wealth of “incredible, grim and raw” information, which taught them about how real lions react to each other, the “lion mafia” and how they work together on taking down prides, and how these animals can “really be mean.”

“But it was important for me to understand that this happens when their lands are taken and their prides (family units) are killed. We’re not blaming the lions for who they are. They’re just a force of nature,” he said.

It was also important for Kormákur to present a realistic South Africa and not a Hollywood version. Beast was filmed in a real South African bush, particularly in Limpopo province, Northern Cape province and in Cape Town. The supporting cast was mainly South African.

Explaining to The STAR, he said, “I wanted to make it as authentic as possible, you know, that’s why I used the Venda (official) language in the beginning… Also, I wanted to take you through it and not out of Africa where you have all those big, beautiful vistas and shots, which is great. But in this movie, I kind of wanted to pull you through it. That’s why I go for this one long take and one long shot. I wanted you to feel the dust, the dirt and the beauty at the same time.”

Still and all, at the heart of this survival movie, is a father’s journey to win back his kids after a family trauma and then safeguard them from another and possibly bigger trauma. This was what struck a chord with Kormákur when this project was first offered to him by producer Will Packer (Girls Trip, the Ride Along franchise, among other blockbusters).

“Having to face this challenge, which kind of feels like a metaphor for their challenges in life, and to come together as a family and be strong, I think these were the kind of elements (that drew me in),” he said.

Kormákur further shared why his main goal was to deliver a story about how a family survives a beast, literal or otherwise. “It was very important to me, you know, because I am a father of a lot of children. The family is something that, especially when you grow a little older, there’s nothing that replaces it. So when it breaks apart, that’s the hardest. The hardest challenge I have met is to rebuild and get it back together,” he reflected.

“So, I connected really with those, I’ve gone through those kinds of things. I connect very strongly with that part. I really thought if I get that right, then the tension will be more and you will care more for those people and understand their struggle.

“And, you know, in all honesty for me, the beast is a metaphor for the biggest challenge you meet in your life, which is getting your families  through the trenches, through the difficulties, through their traumas. So, yes, absolutely. That was really what I aimed for.”

When asked more about how he utilized the beast as a symbolism for fear and what it takes to overcome it, Kormákur said, “We all are faced with fear at some points of our life, you know, even when you’re premiering a movie (laughs). There’s a lot of fear in all of us, but you have to get through it and continue. You have to show up.

“When it really strikes in a family thing — the fear of losing your family — that’s the biggest one I have ever endured. There was no part of me that was ready to let it go, give it up and not try everything in my power to get over that.

“I think this movie kind of presents it in a way that even in the beginning, there’s no way that Nate (Idris) would face down a lion. But after going through that and coming to that place, he realizes there is no other choice. It’s either that or losing his children. For me, if you face fear, in the end you become courageous. And it’s only so far that you can run away from it.”

Beast opens in Philippine cinemas on Aug. 24.


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