Movie Review: “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” – A Beastly Debut

Written by Matthew da Silva July 27, 2012

Benh Zeitlin’s feature-length directorial debut transfers us to the remote town of Bathtub, near the Southern Delta of the Mississippi River. Following the ferocious Hushpuppy (6-year-old newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis), who deals with her terminally ill father and a fluctuating environment that threatens to wipe out her town and life as she knows it, Zeitlin’s folkloric tale seamlessly blends fantasy and reality, incorporating post-Katrina sentiments that never impose on the unique fable that he lays out for us on the big screen.

A Realistic Fable

“Beasts Of The Southern Wild” follows young Hushpuppy, who lives in her own ramshackle trailer in the vicinity of her father’s similar abode. Life in Bathtub is simple, feeding time is the same for Hushpuppy and her father Wink as it is for the animals they take care of, and the meal is the same for all parties. Entertainment, for Hushpuppy, comes in the form of her imagination, shaped by a wise naivety that we hear in her poetic narratives on screen. The adults, whose imaginations have been tarnished by years of knowledge of the strange, modern world outside of Bathtub, often have festivals where they revel in bottles of moonshine to wash down freshly caught seafood, where adult and child alike bask in the simplicity of their life outside of common society.

We quickly find out, though, that there are forces that threaten to destroy this peaceful existence. At her school, where education is reserved for the teaching of practical knowledge on leading a self-serving life and not on the redundant practices of algebra, Hushpuppy’s teacher informs the class about the melting of the ice caps, which would cause sea levels to rise above their little town due to the levee which protects the industrial sector near their encampment. With the melting of the ice caps also comes the threat of the aurochs, a mystical beast bearing resemblance to a wild boar in the size of an elephant, who have been frozen in the ice caps since the ice age, waiting until the rapidly approaching day when they can roam free and terrorize the citizens of the earth again.

Fresh Faces

Having lied about her age to audition for the part of Hushpuppy (minimum age was six while she was five at the time), Quvenzhané Wallis clearly proved that age has little to do with talent. She gives us subtle glimpses into the personal struggle she faces in dealing with the environmental changes and deteriorating health of her sick father, problems which she regards as stemming from herself. Never doting on these thoughts for too long, she is quick to counter them with sheer courage and bravery in her ultimate quest to fix the world, far from the typical helpless child archetype that hinder too many films. Her ingenuous imagination allows her to conquer this, allowing her to act with no regard for the possibility of failure.

With her mother having “sailed away” shortly after Hushpuppy’s birth, we can attribute young Hushpuppy’s personality traits as a direct influence from her father, Wink (newcomer Dwight Henry). Portrayed at first as a villainous wretch, we soon sympathize with his tough love disciplining of Hushpuppy once we learn about his condition, raising her so that she will be prepared for life without parents, and where she will have to fend for herself at a young age. The chemistry between the rookie actors is incredible; their love-hate relationship constantly proving to each other that they are both ready for the inevitable fate of Wink, even if his time has lamentably come too soon.

Forthcoming Accolades

Skeptics of the movie may point to the films anti-consumerist, pro-environment undertones, yet people criticizing this would be missing the point completely. Never preaching to the audience, the film is simply a fable- a young girl’s dream to save the life that she leads and loves, following the adventure that unravels as a result of this quest. In a summer inevitably filled with mostly forgettable popcorn blockbusters, check this one out if you are looking for a film with a heroine that will top any badass with a gun, and watch its buzz grow all the way to awards season.

Rating: 8/10

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