Review of Beasts of the Southern Wild


Movie Review: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

-- Rating: PG-13 (brief sensuality, language, thematic material including child imperilment, disturbing images)
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2012
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Genre: Drama

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" took both the Sundance Film Festival (where it won the top prize) and the Cannes Film Festival by storm. Until then, hardly anyone had paid attention to, or even heard of, the little indie drama, but they are certainly paying attention now that the film has obtained a wider release from Fox Searchlight.

The movie is fictional tale that is rooted in reality despite a definite magic element. It is set in the Bathtub, a fictional area of the Louisiana bayou that is appears to be exiled from the rest of the world. It is a rough area to live in and even rougher to have to grow up in, but six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) handles the complexities of living in the Bathtub with grace and wisdom that are way beyond her years.

One of those complexities is the fact that the area is prone to floods. Some prehistoric, boar-like creatures called aurochs are about to be unleashed because the searing heat is making the polar ice caps, where the beasts were frozen, melt. However, these are just the environmental and physical aspects that Hushpuppy has to worry about. She also has some very emotional issues that she must contend with.

She is being raised by her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), who happens to be an alcoholic. He drinks way too much liquor and it is beginning to take its toll on his body. At first, Wink seems very harsh with Hushpuppy, often unnecessarily so. She takes it in her stride, but the audience may find that hard to do. However, after a few minutes of observing their interactions, the audience sees that Wink really does love his daughter. He may be strict but perhaps living in a place as harsh as the Bathtub warrants that strictness. He does occasionally show his softer side, imploring Hushpuppy to say things like "I'm the man!" while flexing her tiny biceps.

Unfortunately, these happy father-daughter interactions are beginning to dwindle as his health deteriorates. He is becoming more and more ill by the day, leading Hushpuppy to wonder just who is going to take care of her once he passes away. This is a harsh reality for a girl of six to have to worry about, but she manages to handle it well. She decides to try to find her long-lost mother, who Wink says "just swam away" several years before.

As Hushpuppy sets off on her journey to find her mother, some of the rougher elements of living in the Bathtub begin to surface and challenge her. Those aurochs are finally a reality, and the entire area becomes victim to a Katrina-like flood. Not only is Hushpuppy about to go on a physical journey, she faces a rather bumpy emotional one, too.

The film has a magical quality that makes the audience question whether Hushpuppy is unleashing the aurochs and other elements from her imagination or if it is all real. In the end, it really doesn't matter, because the elements of the movie are all entertaining whether they are real or not.

The film was shot in and around New Orleans, an area director and co-writer (with Lucy Alibar) Behn Zeitlin calls home. Though originally from the suburbs of New York City, he now finds inspiration in the bogs and swamps that mark the New Orleans area. In fact, he loves the area so much that he cast nothing but locals, most of whom are making their feature film debuts.

Dwight Henry had no previous acting experience before taking on the complex roll of Wink, which he nails. In fact, he had been working in a New Orleans bakery when he was chosen for the part. Likewise, Quvenzhané Wallis is also making her film debut. This is one young girl moviegoers should keep an eye on. If she is this good at the age of six, there is no telling what more experience will do for her. She turns in a sterling performance that lacks absolutely nothing.

Zeitlin had previously directed three short videos, but this also marks his feature-length movie debut. With so many inexperienced people both in the film and behind the camera, people might imagine this film would look like amateur hour. They would be wrong. With solid performances and an exemplary script, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" shows why it took the winter and spring movie festivals by storm.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars