Living a self-sufficient existence away from the modern world, six-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father Wink (Henry) reside in “The Bathtub”, a remote bayou community surrounded by rising sea levels. At the mercy of the elements, a severe storm floods the area and threatens to eradicate both the community and their way of life. With his health worsening, Wink prepares Hushpuppy to survive on her own, while she imagines that long-frozen boar-like creatures will be unleashed by these events…
Part social realism drama, part magical fairytale, part eco-themed cautionary tale, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is arguably three beautiful films rolled into one. Set in a primitive, borderline-feral swamp-community, first-time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin offers a thoughtful depiction of extreme poverty, but does so in a way which blurs the line between fantasy and a child’s imaginary perspective of the world. With Hushpuppy occasionally imagining that she’s being pursued by giant aurochs (which are, essentially, ancient boar-like creatures), the movie is undoubtedly eccentric and unusual – but crucially it’s never silly. Thoughtful, ethereal and dream-like, there are definite shades of Terrence Malick (and even, to an extent, Terry Gilliam), but the result here is less abstract and more satisfying.
Plus, it’s not nearly as depressing as it might sound. Punctuated by moments that are surprisingly amusing (such as Hushpuppy nonchalantly lighting her gas hob with a flamethrower) and unexpectedly magical (see her running through the woods with Roman candles), Beasts Of The Southern Wild isn’t the misery porn you’re perhaps expecting. Despite the aforementioned fantasy trimmings, this is a movie which largely feels real, authentic and lived-in, an approach which extends to the cast and, in particular, the two leads. Plucked from the streets of New Orleans, non-professional locals Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry (who often sounds like Samuel L. Jackson – listen for it), are both impressively naturalistic, and worthy of generous praise.
Part social realism drama, part magical fairytale, part eco-themed cautionary tale, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is arguably three beautiful films rolled into one.