Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * *

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Director: Benh Zeitlin.
Screenplay: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander.

2012 has been a bit of an underwhelming year at the movies for me. So many films have promised so much, yet failed to deliver. It’s encouraging though, that one of the art-house films of the year comes along and restores your faith in creative and original cinema. “Beasts Of The Southern Wild” is exactly that type of film.

Based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar, this tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) a philosophical little girl who lives in a rundown Louisiana town called “The Bathtub”. It’s a bayou steeped in poverty, yet brings a certain freedom to the villagers. Their freedom is compromised though, when a storm floods the entire area and kills the livestock, forcing the community to flee their homes in search of pastures new.

As we are introduced to our young protagonist Hushpuppy, we see her building a nest for a bird and before long we witness her holding small chicks to her ear to hear their heartbeat. In her own words “Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.” This is a child that’s completely in touch with nature. It’s this very understanding and connection with nature that makes her such a sweet and appealing character and one that’s a real pleasure to share her journey with. That journey takes shape in her struggle for survival and a sense of belonging, as her home is destroyed in a storm, leading her on her life-affirming travels that address the nature of family, community and the refusal to be defeated or succumb to the norm. This is a film about culture and the automatic assumption that those who live a different lifestyle (even impoverished) need to be helped or changed into a mainstream or industrialised way of living. Ultimately though, it’s a right-of-passage story about bravery and survival and an allegory for climate change.
It’s strikingly shot throughout with the camera rarely staying still, adding that all important, stark sense of realism, required for the material. This is a film that’s filmed from a child’s eye view and young Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only 5 years old at the time of filming) is absolutely outstanding in the lead role. This young, untrained, actress should not be overlooked when the awards are being dished out. Fine support also comes from Dwight Henry as her defiant, stoic and seemingly harsh father Wink. To think that these two performers had never actually acted before is astonishing. They both deliver some of the best work all year. There are also shades of director Terrence Malick (“The Tree Of Life“) and his fascination with flora and fauna and it also adopts his scrutiny of such things. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin who’s not afraid to infuse his story with surreal and highly effective visual moments of mythical wild aurochs who pursue Hushpuppy on her travels. It manages that rare ability to balance fantasy and reality and does so with such poetic flair. There was a moment in the film where I thought it was losing it’s way and rushing towards it’s conclusion but this was short-lived; it soon got back on track and finished with absolute aplomb.
Throughout the soulful journey, we get to know and love Hushpuppy and in her moment of self-assurance she informs us “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub“… How could we ever forget?

Heartwarming, uplifting and not without it’s moments of pathos. This is a film of purity and truth and one of the years very best.

Mark Walker

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45 Responses to “Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * *”

  1. Although I enjoyed it quite a bit I somehow was expecting more from it. Won’t be appearing in my personal top 10, but it was refreshing to see something different.

    • I was refreshing to see something different Nostra. I absolutely loved it and it’s probably my number 1 from the year so far. I’ve still to see a few more movies though. Life Of Pi is the only film I think could top it. Thanks for stopping by man. :-)

      • Life of Pi is the only movie I will stay have to see before I finalise my end of year list. Django won’t be out till January over here…

      • Yeah, Django isn’t out in Scotland till January either. I’ve yet to catch up on The Dark Knight and Avengers but I’m not big on superhero stuff so I doubt they’ll be featuring very high on my list. Still, to see The Hobbit as well.

  2. Great post, I will see this ASAP.

  3. Great review. This is one of the best films of the year in my opinion and the most beautiful. Good comparison with The Tree of Life, I see the connection between the two.

    • Thanks man. I couldn’t agree more with you there. A stunning piece of cinema. I mention Malick’s Tree Of Life but it’s probably a mixture of that (in terms of everything interconnected in the universe) and Days Of Heaven (for it’s child’s eye view of life) as well. Love these methodical and philosophical type of films.

  4. Nice Review, Mark. This is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Really wanna check it out as soon as I can!

  5. Boom. Nice review, Mark. Glad to see you loved it so much.

    I was pretty blown away too. Wallis was awesome! Gotta love her!

    Too bad you’re feeling let down by 2012… My top ten is proving to be hard to put together cause I have to cut so many good ones! :(

    • Cheers Fogs. It was a wonderful film and definitely amongst the best. So far, it’s top for me but admittedly I’ve still a few films to see: The master, Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, Life Of Pi, The hobbit. So you could say, that I haven’t seen most of the strong contenders. We don’t get Lincoln or Django until January either. I’m going to swing by your review of this again, I don’t think j completely took it in as I was wary of knowing too much about it.

  6. Great write up mate. This was high on my list to see but it wasn’t showing anywhere near me so I missed out first time around. Will definitely make a point of seeing it though when it’s out on Blu-ray.

    • Cheers Chris. I hope you don’t have to wait too long. It’s a marvellous little film. It’s shit when theatres pick and chose what to show. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. Five stars! High praise!! Might have to give this one a look!

  8. This is definitely one of those movies that took a while to sink in, but once it did I found myself incredibly moved by it. Great choice for a 5 star rating :)

    • Cheers Andy. I was the same. Once it was over it started to really have an impact and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a treat I just had. I don’t like to dish out 5 stars too easily but sometimes a film comes along where you feel like you’re doing it a disservice not to give it full marks.

  9. I can see why so many people would be freaking out about this, but still, even though I didn’t love it like so many others, there’s a great essence of originality and energy to this picture that really carries on throughout the whole running-time. Good review Mark.

  10. On my must-see list! You’ve only stoked the flame more by your excellent review, Mark. Thanks.

  11. Great review, Mark. Very curious about this one and will check it out pretty soon.

  12. So,

    You’re one of my nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award (http://cinenematoblog.com/2012/12/23/the-versatile-blogger-award-from-written-in-blood/).

    Have a look and, maybe, have a go?

    Cheers!

  13. Bummer that I still haven’t seen this. Great review Mark, yet another praise for this movie which makes me even more curious now.

    • I loved this film Ruth. Like I’ve said to others, I’ve yet to catch up on some other movies this year but so far, this is the best I’ve seen. Hope you see it soon.

  14. [...] Beasts Of The Southern Wild * * * * * (mrmarakai.wordpress.com) [...]

  15. sanclementejedi Says:

    Saw this about two weeks ago and I am still tossing it around in my head. So no review yet. Amazing performance by Wallis and I hope it gets recognized come award season.
    A few parts rubbed me the wrong way, while I was all for the freedom and independence of the characters, I was a bit conflicted. Hushpuppy, barely had a roof over her head or clothes on her back . Lack of access to say, a doctor, dentist and any formal education seemed sure to limit her life options.
    O and the film looks amazing.

    • Hey Adam. Good to see you man. I totally agree with awards talk. This should definitely be in contention. No doubt about it. I wasn’t really that fussed with it’s depiction of Hushpuppy without clothes or education etc. as it confirmed perfectly how free she really was. She wasn’t anchored by a societal structure. She had no need for it as she enjoyed the freedom and culture of her own people. That was her identity.

  16. I’m trying to put together my Top 10 for 2012 and this will most definitely make the cut. Extraordinary film. Loved your write up and I’m happy to see it really affected you too.

    • Thanks Mark. It’s too early for me to compile a top ten yet but so far, this would be #1. I absolutely loved it and if it gets knocked off my top spot, I don’t imagine it’ll drop too far. It should definitely finish in the top five for me.

  17. Nice review. I have got to see this… It’s been popping up on several “Best of 2012″ lists !

    • Thanks Daniel. It’s no surprise that it’s appearing on a few “best of” lists, it’s a great little film. I’d definitely have it in my list as well. Thanks for stopping by man.

  18. Nice to read Mark, enjoyed the review and I can see it really hit home for you. It’s a movie with a lot of heart, definitely. I wish I’d had the same feeling from it, but just felt something was lacking. Not sure what…can’t put my finger on it yet.

    • Thanks man! Yeah, it really hit all the right notes for me. I thought it was fantastic.I got completely swept up in HushPuppy’s journey and the magnificent performance from young Wallis.

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