Beasts of the Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis & Dwight Henry

It’s a rare event when a film comes along which can justly claim the tag of originality. Whilst similarities could possibly be drawn with some of Terrance Malick’s earlier work, Beasts of the Southern Wild is pretty unique both in its tenor and tone. Set in a fiction bayou territory around the time of Hurricane Katrina, Benh Zeitlin co-wrote with Lucy Alibar; the author of the one-act play Juicy and Delicious, which the film is based on.

Faced with both her ill-tempered father’s (Dwight Henry) dwindling health and the rising waters which threaten to engulf the “Bathtub” which she calls home, six year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) has to learn the art of survival whilst struggling to repair the fracture in the world. Hushpuppy is driven by her active imagination; the mythical beasts which threaten their way of life mimic events in the outside world. Which eventually leads to her search of her “lost” mother as her father’s health deteriorates.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a powerful and poetic tale from first-time director Benh Zeitlin. There are a dearth of contemporary films which present the voice of the Deep South from the perspective of the inhabitants. The narrative plays-out like a lyrical tale; we follow Hishpuppy as she struggles to find her way in this strange new world and becomes a “man”. You feel as though you are stuck in a fable, looking outside in on an alien world.

The inhabitants of the Bathtub are strong and independent; mimicking the (now extinct) aurochs which threaten to tear apart Hushpuppy’s world. They live in abject poverty, but this is their way of life. They don’t sit around bemoaning their situation, they act as a strong community, determined to fight for their freedoms. Beasts of the Southern Wild is encased in magical realism, full of wonder and teeming with life. There is a strong heartbeat running through the film, which Hushpuppy relies on to reassure her that their world will survive. When things get too tough for her, she retreats into her imaginary world.

Both the parts of Hushpuppy and her father Wink were cast to non-professional actors. Both Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry are both staggering in their roles, bringing a gritty realism to the narrative. Wallis’ performance is almost beyond comprehension given that she was only six at the time of shooting.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a special piece of film-making with strong political and environmental undertones. When reality becomes fairytale, there is something dangerously wrong with the world.

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