BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Release Date: 19 October 2012 (UK)
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Screening Reviewed: UK Premiere
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
Beasts of the Southern Wild is almost as difficult a movie to review as it is to satisfactorily define, brilliantly unconventional and original as it is. An earthy, observational take on life in ‘the bathtub’ (a self-sustaining community just off the edge of the map by way of South America), mixed with a powerful yet tender tale of a young girl forced to endure changing times, an absent mother and ailing father, over-arching ecological messages and warnings and the journey of some thought-extinct mythical beasts running parallel to everything thrown in for good measure. On paper it sounds an incongruent mess, but the level of conviction mixed with some beautifully imaginative storytelling and filmmaking, filtering it’s story as it does through the eyes of a six year old girl, allows reality, fantasy and imagination to constantly overspill and helps craft Beasts into one of the most beautiful, touching and inspired movies of the year.
The film follows Hushpuppy, a young girl who lives with her father in an isolated, impoverished yet content community as the inexorable march of time and geology come knocking. The ‘bathtub’ locale is presented to us as real, inviting and celebratory despite it’s obvious shortcomings, with director Benh Zeitlin thankfully not defaulting to pity for it’s denizens or any attempt at overt commentary on poverty or their particular way of life; indeed it is the external influences, such as aid workers and their clinical, prison-like hospitals robbed of the bathtubs colour and vitality, which seem alien and unwelcoming when they are introduced midway through.
A palpable spirit and camaraderie amongst the locals, alive and joyous be they drinking together into the early hours of the morning or holding a gloriously visual and vibrant festival, makes the inevitable change and plight the film introduces all the more devastating and resonant (though never to a point of losing the films delight, spontaneous humour and whimsy). Hushpuppy, her father and a selection of those who remain embark on a journey that will lead them through their homelands and beyond, and a powerful, immensely satisfying resolution to the core relationship between a strong-willed young girl and a father reluctant to accept the inevitable; fiercely determined to make his daughter strong, a survivor, at any costs.
The fire and heart between the two characters is what really grounds Beasts of the Southern Wild amongst all of its wonderment and invention. Featuring two equally captivating and absorbing, naturalistic performances from Dwight Henry and young Quvenzhané Wallis (surely the breakout turn of the year), the arc of the two characters and their relationship is judged to perfection throughout. Thoroughly believable and empathetic characters enduring and bonding through hardships and struggles; it is narrative and character development at it’s most pure and satisfying, and rarely on film is it so honestly yet imaginatively portrayed.
All of what Beasts of the Southern Wild encompasses and achieves is made more remarkable in the knowledge that it is the first feature by it’s director, and similarly the acting debut of it’s core cast who are not trained or industry professionals. Zeitlin’s direction and visuals clearly owe a debt to the likes of Terrence Malick, particularly his oft-dreamy, perspective-fuelled beats and more fantastical undertones that run throughout. For every lingering ebb of a landscape brought to stillness and silence by flooding and starvation there are epic, or the simplicity of Hushpuppy exploring and learning about her world there are bombastic shots of the collapse of the ice caps or the dramatic journey of it’s fantasy creature creations. Yet there is purpose and poetry in all of it; the mythical ‘aurochs’, for instance, like Hushpuppy and her community are journeying, enduring, living, making their way through and finding their place in a world that is forcing change upon them.
Completely original and utterly inimitable, Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those rare finds and achievements that can in many ways redefine what it is you can expect from a trip to the cinema. With any luck and justice, Hollywood will follow their recent trend of acknowledging the less mainstream or atypical fare come Oscar season, as they have in recent years with the likes of The Hurt Locker and The Artist, and this charming gem of a film will find its way to a deservedly sizeable audience. It will undoubtedly not be to everyone’s tastes - some will find it’s form, execution and bricolage of ideas perhaps a little too original and removed from the moviegoing norm, but for those who can appreciate and embrace it, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful, tender and joyful experience that is unlike anything you will have seen before, and by a long measure one of the year’s most accomplished and impressive films.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 stars)
Addendum - Meeting the Cast and Director
|(A)musings Founder Kyle Pedley with|
Beasts of the Southern Wild actress
Quvenzhane Wallis and her mother.
In attending the UK Premiere of Beasts of the Southern Wild as part of the London Film Festival, I had the great joy of getting to meet the films' director and producer, as well as it's brilliant young lead Quvenzhane Wallis and her mother. The excitement, joy and pride for the project and the excellent reception it has been getting was shared by all involved, particularly an extremely enthusiastic yet congenial Ms. Wallis. It is humbling to see genuine talent and success going hand in hand with gratitude and humility and I would like to thank those involved and in attendance at the premiere for the warm reception and taking the time to discuss the project and their experiences with me.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs in full from 10 - 21 October 2012 in partnership with American Express. Press Screenings for the festival began 24 September 2012. For more information on the festival please visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff