Once every so often does a movie come out with as much impact as Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild". A Sundance winner, this film has become one of the most acclaimed Inidie projects of the year, and with good reason.
The main reason that “Beasts” works is because of the direction it receives from Zeitlin, who garnered himself an Oscar nomination for this film. “Beasts” is set in the Bathtub, an island off the coast of Louisiana. There is no distinct time period for this movie, certainly within the last two decades or so, but I like the fact that it is not spelled out for the viewer, letting some imagination take over. Our protagonist is the astonishing Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, a somewhat reminiscent character to Huckleberry Finn, but only in abstract ways. Hushpuppy has grown up in the Bathtub with her father, her mother has left some time ago and it’s slightly unclear whether she has the mature understanding of the situation to blame herself for the maternal absence. One thing is clear, she misses her mother. “All the time, everywhere, everything's hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can't understand.” This quote begins "Beasts of the Southern Wild" as Hushpuppy listens to various animal’s heats beat in different ways. Here is the first example of what makes this film so captivating, the heart beats are heard by the viewer but not overly clear. It takes a little effort to make out the distinctive life beats and just when you’ve heard it, it’s gone. Life. That’s what Hushpuppy seems keenly interested in as she journeys through the film. Her father is played by Dwight Henry, who was not an actor, and only chose to do this role because he was begged by the director. This is what great film making is all about. The budget is low and the director and cast are all unknowns who, besides their leading lady, may never act on screen again. Yet, the result is an intangible, blissful, experience that is so effective I would go as far as to call it a “masterpiece”. There’s something about the innocence that Wallis brings to Hushpuppy that is simply mystical. The camera work is always in a state of movement, slight movement, mind you. Perhaps this mirrors the wrestlings inside of Hushpuppy as she struggles to understand what is happening in the world around her. Being from a musical background I can appreciate the score as one of the best I’ve heard in years and I’m shocked that the Oscars overlooked the music in this film. Good to note that Zeitlin also had a hand in the composition of the score. At first look, it seems like a film that I would detest. It depicts a community and their lives. But that’s only at first look. It goes so much deeper than that, exploring the imagination of a young girl who’s afraid of what life will give or take from her. But mostly, the film condenses to a relationship between a father and a daughter. Although this is a simple idea, Zeitlin, who also helped write the script, takes us on a journey that is borderline indescribable. When it thunders, Hushpuppy imagines great rifts of ice falling into the ocean carrying frozen beasts from the Ice Age, who could gobble her up any second. It’s this somewhat Malick-ian style of story telling that leads the film in the right direction. But know this, there is never a moment that I was confused or lost in the plot, this movie is more of a saga than a film anyway. Parts of the film feel like legends told around campfires, and others have gritty realism—these two forces balance each other to create a movie that will never be duplicated in the emotion that it evokes. The determination of Hushpuppy and the ability that Wallis brings, help this go from a movie to a experience. In my opinion, this was the best film of 2012.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars.