Greetings again from the darkness. Movies featuring man versus beast date back to at least 1933 with KING KONG, and have proven to be fan favorites many times since, likely peaking with JAWS in 1975. Of course, this sub-genre has also produced too many flops to count as low-budget filmmakers have attempted to capitalize with the cheap-thrills approach to entertainment. Director Baltasar Kormakur has previously flashed his skill with nature thrillers ADRIFT (2018) and EVEREST (2015), and here he’s working from a script and story by Ryan Engle (NON-STOP, 2014) and Jaime Premak Sullivan (BREAKING IN, 2018). It’s tempting to call this one ‘Cujo as a lion’, as a tip of the cap to the 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror-novel, but there are many reasons not to do so.
Idris Elba plays Dr Nate Samuels, a man taking his daughters to the African savannah area where he met their mother many years prior. The mom recently passed away from the effects of cancer, and since mom and dad had separated the year before, there is tension between dad and daughters, especially the eldest, Meredith (“call me Mere”), who holds him responsible for not being there for mom. Mere is played by Iyana Halley, and younger sister Norah is played by Leah Jeffries. We quickly learn these are smart girls, spoiled by privilege and dumbfounded at the lack of Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage miles from nowhere.
Nate’s old buddy Martin (Sharlto Copley) manages the protection of local wildlife and will act as their guide. One of the first sequences we see is poachers wiping out a pride of lions. However, they missed the alpha male and he is now out for revenge against all poachers … only he, like so many these days, can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. This puts Nate and the girls in danger, especially after Martin is seriously injured. Director Kormakur pulls the old “Jaws” trick by keeping the lion out of sight for a while, building suspense. Once he begins attacking, the lion is in full view for much of the film. Of course, lions are wild animals and cannot be trained to act, so what we really see are computer-generated lions with terrific growling sound effects.
The lion attacks are ferocious and do provide a certain level of fun tension with numerous jump-scares, and many will find this sufficient for movie entertainment. However, for those who want a bit more, the plot, dialogue and character decisions are often absurd and ludicrous – generating laughter where they shouldn’t. Despite much of this being computer-generated, the work of Oscar winning cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot (A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, 1992) should be noted … it looks and feels like we are in the wild bush. The four main actors are fine, although Mr. Elba’s contemplative physician transforming into quasi-superhero is a bit difficult to take. Mere’s donning a JURASSIC PARK t-shirt is a nice try, but this one has more in common with Liam Neeson fighting off wolves in THE GREY (2017).
Opens in theaters on August 19, 2022