BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – The Review
I recently watched last year’s HUGO and in it George Melies ( as played by Ben Kingsley ) at a retrospective of his fantasy films invites the audience to ” Come dream with me…”. With BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, director Benh Zeitlin also extends that invitation. It’s hard to recall a recent film that goes in and out of dreams so fluidly. A flash of memory here, a romantic fantasy sequence here, often bumping up against the harsh, cruel world. It’s a film that will occupy your head for a long time. A friend said that he wasn’t sure if he liked it, but he’d have to think about it some more. A film that doesn’t evaporate from your memory on the way home from the theatre is a real rarity in these days of interchangeable blockbusters. BEASTS is a unique viewing experience.
The film takes place in an odd ramshackle community outside regular society ( and the levees that keep the Delta water in check ) called the Bathtub. The residents truly live off the grid by trade and barter along with scavenging from distant towns and netting plentiful seafood. We learn this from the narration spoken by six-year-old Hushpuppy ( Quvenzhane Wallis ). She’s a fiesty, frizzy-haired little ball of energy being raised by her single dad Wink ( Dwight Henry ). Perhaps raised isn’t quite the right word as she’s taught to fend for herself as much as possible ( Mom took off when she was a toddler ). This independence is tested when Wink disappears for days due to his fading health. Luckily the Bathtub does have a makeshift daycare/school for Hushpuppy and the other youngsters. There she learns about the aurochs, fearsome prehistoric mammoth-sized wild boars that ruled the Delta in ancient times. It just so happens that pesky ole’ global warming has broken up a glacier full of the frozen giants. And guess where they’re floating towards? If that’s not enough, it seems that a massive storm is headed to the Bathtub. Will Hushpuppy and her neighbors head the warnings from nearby law-enforcement? And if they do ride out the storm, what about Wink’s heart? And what about those foul-tempered, tusked and furry beasties?
BEASTS boasts one of the most remarkable performances by a youngster ever. The entire film rests on Wallis’s tiny shoulders and she carries it confidently. Her scenes with Henry crackle especially when she listens to him tell a story about Mom ( we never see Mom’s face, but Hush imagines her as a fierce force of nature ). Henry is terrific as the boisterous Wink, who must make sure that his precious baby girl is tough enough to handle anything life dishes out. The neighbors truly embrace the ” it takes a village” adage and pitch in to help her whenever possible. The amateur actors are truly believable as this racially diverse, off the beaten track society on the edge of disaster. Zeitlin gives us some memorable images to convey the film’s dream-like quality: Hushpuppy running with sparklers, cooking her meals with unusual tools, everyone crowding into the tavern ( which seems to have an unending supply of bottled beer ) to feast on buckets of boiled crab, the wind and rain pounding on the flimsy, metal roof, and, of course, the lumbering, menacing aurochs. For a modestly budgeted indie, these creatures are special effects marvels ( especially in their big scenes at the film’s finale ). The plot takes a slow turn when government officials show up to ” help these pitiful indigents ”, but soon Hushpuppy and her pals are off to more adventures. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is unlike any film this year and well worth the effort to locate. Just make sure there’s a great seafood place near the theatre.
Overall Rating : 4 Out of 5 Stars