Beasts of the Southern Wild
The first feature-length film directed by Behn Zeitlin doesn’t disappoint. Set in the bayous of Louisiana in a place called the Bathtub, Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father, Wink (Henry), struggle to eke out an existence using a mish-mash of discarded items, hunting, and farming to survive.
Southern Wild is told from the perspective of Hushpuppy, the precocious 6-ish year old daughter of Wink. There’s an element of social commentary threaded throughout the film that is present but not annoying. After the Bathtub floods, the community must pull together to survive, leading to a convoluted sequence of events, including the freeing of ancient beasts frozen in icecaps. It’s hard to explain succinctly, and it sounds kind of strange, but it actually works in the film.
The handheld camera work at the beginning is somewhat distracting, but after losing myself in the story, I can honestly say I don’t remember noticing it anywhere else. The setting is very typical for south Louisiana, complete with recycling items for completely different purposes than they were originally intended, such as using the bed of a truck as a boat.
The dynamic between father and daughter is a bit strange to me as their relationship seems entirely realistic, complete with moments of exasperation that occasionally border on extreme dislike, but Dwight Henry and Quevenzhane Wallis both have extremely impressive performances for two people new to acting. I’m excited to see if either of them receives an Oscar nomination. With Sundance wins for best cinematography and the Grand Jury prize, Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a while.