Review: Beasts of The Southern Wild

“Once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in a bathtub,” is the bold line uttered by ingenue Quvenzhane Wallis –  a line so simple yet so piercing that it resonates throughout the film and makes for a very triumphant culmination. Loosely based on Lucy Alibar’s play “Juicy and Delicious,” Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is the modern day fable of courage,
love and perseverance.

Set in a forgotten Louisiana bayou community called “the Bathtub,” Wallis portrays Hushpuppy, an unyielding six-year old prodigy who, along with her temperamental father Wink (Dwight Henry), must cope with the constant perils of the place they call home. As a merciless storm draws nigh, Wink suffers from a mysterious heart condition and prehistoric creatures known as “Aurochs” are subsequently unearthing themselves from melting ice caps, forcing Hushpuppy to set out in search of her lost mother.

Visually the film hits on all cylinders as Ben Richardson’s cinematography captures Alibar and Zeitlin’s fairytale ruins in its most perfect form. To the untrained eye there’s seemingly no fancy footwork or trickery – just the best old fashioned  camera work and creativity a small budget can buy. Plot-wise, however, “Beasts” unfortunately comes up short.  While the inclusion of a very overused plot device helps the story in terms of emotional value, largely in part to Wallis’ poetic execution, it does nothing to add clarity to what exactly we as an audience are rooting for. Though in hindsight, maybe that’s precisely the point. Fortunately, Wallis’ performance never tows the line of being contrived. In fact, in a film that demands so much of her it’s her raw portrayal that supplies the beat to the film’s heart, while Henry’s portrayal of her tormented father gives the film its soul.

Upon first viewing one can’t help but note the strong thematic elements shared between “Beasts” and Spike Jonze’s 2008 adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are,” and Steven Rea’s review (Philly.com, July 2012) makes the perfect case for why this is so.

Something else that makes the perfect case for “Beasts” is another key line in the film – “the whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.” From Alibar’s one act play to the stunning visual elements and original score, all the way down to Wallis’ raw talent – in Zeitlin’s universe, everything fits together perfectly and ultimately offers up a pleasurable viewing experience.

My Grade: 8/10

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