‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Movie Review
Every now and then a film comes along that makes such an impression that you just know you’ll be hearing about it again when awards season rolls around. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a new film by first-time director Behn Zeitlin, is one of those films that walks the line between beauty and squalor so well that it becomes impossible to tell which is which.
The film centers around five year-old Hushpuppy (played to Oscar-nod-worthy perfection by Quvenzhane Wallis) a pint-sized girl growing up in the least inhabitable area of the Louisiana bayou known to its residents as the Bathtub. Although she has a father named Wink (played by another first-time actor, Dwight Henry), Hushpuppy is pretty much left to raise herself, especially when it becomes clear that her father is dying. In preparation for the day when she really will be on her own, Wink begins to teach his daughter the skills she will need to survive.
Life in the Bathtub changes forever, though, when a major hurricane floods the bayou, killing off plants and animals and bringing the displaced residents to the government’s attention. The word “Katrina” is never spoken, but it doesn’t really need to be. The Bathtub is below the levee, in a world so far removed from even the Lower 9th Ward that the people who call it home are willing to stay and die rather than be removed to a so-called “better place.”
Hushpuppy represents the best of this world. She is strong, determined, and far wiser than her age would indicate. Yet underneath her wild hair and massive bravada, she is still a little girl and Wallis, being a child herself, effortlessly brings out both sides of the character, sometimes at the same time. Hers is a brilliant performance, and the scenes between her and Wink are often disturbing to watch, but never lose their ring of truth. These people could exist, probably do exist, but they will never be our neighbors. They live in a place we would never go.
At times, the movie moves with the pace of the stagnant bayou waters, but Zeitlin manages to weave together the fantastic with the mundane, presenting a very real story through the eyes of an incredibly special little girl. There are moments that seem contrived, but you still believe them because after two hours, you are willing to go wherever Hushpuppy goes, if only to make sure she’s all right.
The final image of the movie may haunt you, but don’t let that stop you from seeking out this amazing film. It is well worth the effort.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is currently playing in theatres nationwide.