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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Released 19 October 2012
Director Benh Zeitlin

Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry
Writer(s) Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Michael Gotwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn
Origin United States
Running Time 93 minutes
Genre Drama, fantasy
Rating TBC

Into the wild.

Shot on a miniscule budget in southern Louisiana by first time director Benh Zeitlin Beasts of the Southern Wild is a mystical drama with elements of fantasy running through it. Its amateur cast fit completely within its setting, while its documentary like style adds a feeling of intense reality.

The film is a simple (yet highly symbolic) story of a little girl growing up in a world that is coming to an end around her. Of course it is easy to interpret Beasts of the Southern Wild as an environmental fable, and that certainly is part of it. But the core of the story is very much the people, and this is where the film really shines.

The heart of Beasts of the Southern Wild is the fantastic performance from six year old actress Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy –a tough, fearless yet incredibly fragile child being raised by her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in the fictional bayou community known as the Bathtub. Located at the tail end of Louisiana’s southernmost tip, the Bathtub is isolated from the rest of society by a massive levee, and life is growing more difficult for Hushpuppy and the community around her as the water level rises and her whole world is in danger of being washed away.

Although neither Wallis nor Henry are professional actors, they have an amazing father/daughter chemistry. The way in which Wink teaches Hushpuppy the skills she needs to survive in their harsh environment is intense and even scary at times, as he almost never treats her like a little girl, but rather as his equal. Hushpuppy in turn has an incredible wilful strength, which she draws on when Wink’s health starts to fail and the world as she knows it comes crashing down around her. Some of the best scenes are entirely wordless, yet alive with the vivid movement of life as Hushpuppy struggles to eke out a living.

While too much voiceover narration is almost always a bad thing in film, it works to incredible effect in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Quvenzhané Wallis speaks with such confidence and authority that her age is almost forgotten, and she becomes something more of a timeless narrator while still viewing the world through the innocence of a child. Beasts of the Southern Wild transports the viewer into the amazing world of Hushpuppy, and it is impossible to view this film and not be profoundly effected by its fairytale like quality.

In some ways Beasts of the Southern Wild is reminiscent of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. It is at heart a fantasy story, but it is one that is totally at home in our modern world. The only difference is that Beasts of the Southern Wild is even more contemporary, taking place in a world of melting ice-caps, rising sea levels and global warming. But like any good fairytale, the moral of the story is subtly contained, and the real driving the force behind the narrative is the strength of the characters. The fact that the main character is so small and vulnerable, yet at the same time totally fearless ensures that Beasts of the Southern Wild drags its audience along by compassion, and never delivers a moral lecture.

Beasts of the Southern Wild has already been a big hit on the festival circuit, and Quvenzhané Wallis’s performance in particular getting the brunt of the praise. It has even been suggest that she may get an Oscar nomination for the role. If you don’t believe that someone so young could give such a strong performance, then I recommend you check out this film as soon as possible.

- Bernard O’Rourke