[Review] – Beasts Of The Southern Wild

24 Jul

Title: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Year: 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
MPAA Rating: PG-13, thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Metacritic: 84

My expectations heading into Beasts of the Southern Wild were sky-high. This film was this year’s darling at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered, getting glowing reviews and winning the Grand Jury Prize in the process. Then came Cannes, where it screened in the Un Certain Regard section, and from where it walked out having won the Caméra d’Or for director Behn Zeitlin, the award handed out at the prestigious fest for the best screened directorial debut, one that in the past has been awarded to the likes of Steve McQueen, Jim Jarmusch, Jafar Panahi and Miranda July. And then a couple of weeks ago it got a limited release theatrically, and the reviews were stunning, and it was a specialty box office success, too. Like I said, the expectations were sky-high.

As such, I’m ecstatic to report that this is one of those films that really lives up to the hype, and Mr. Zeitlin has indeed crafted a masterpiece on his first at-bat. This is the kind of film that will have the word “magical” thrown around quite a bit, and it’s the kind of film that will actually be wholly deserving of such an adjective, because “magical” is truly a word that sums up this gorgeous film. It’s fantastic, that’s another word, beautiful, imaginative, breathtaking, powerful, emotional. So many words that may sound cliché but that, in this film at least, really do apply in the purest of terms.

Behn Zeitlin has established himself as a filmmaker with a wondrous imagination, one who doesn’t need money to make us drool in awe, one of those people who, from the very get-go, you just know has a great voice and who you know, or at least you hope, will continue to make films his own way. Because this is a film that truly exemplifies the power of great storytelling and even greater imagination. He’s also a director who, other than having one of the greatest directorial debuts of the past few years, got another stunning debut to come out of his film: the acting debut of the young Quvenzhané Wallis, the eight year-old actress who brings to life Hushpuppy, the lead character here, and who has given what may just be the performance of 2012 so far. An Oscar nomination, I think, may just come her way.

I could get into a handful worth of paragraphs talking about the Oscar chances of this film, about the Oscar trend of late in which there’s backlash against some films, and in which the Academy members act like the old school guard giving the award to The King’s Speech instead of the edgier, far-better pick that was The Social Network, which had cleaned up the critics awards (yes, I’m still super upset about that). I could, but I won’t. This is about Beasts of the Southern Wild and, Oscar attention or not, this is a film that deserves to be seen.

To properly express to you how I feel about this movie, I have to tell you this: when I was seeing it, I felt as though I was experiencing a true game-changer, as though this little film was getting my really excited about movies again. I know that may seem a tad hyperbolic, what with me already being plenty excited about film as it is, and with this not even being my favorite film of 2012 so far (Moonrise Kingdom still holds that distinction), but I was just taken aback by what this film presented, by the unrelenting originality that was so present in this gorgeous fairytale.

When the film begins were are welcomed to the Bathtub, a place offshore from New Orleans, cut off from the rest of the world by a huge levee, that forces it to exist on its own. There lives a defiant bayou community, living on their own terms in poverty, trying their best to survive. Part of that community is little Hushpuppy, a six-year-old who’s just a fierce little girl, embedded with all the optimism and innocence that comes with being that young, equipped with a wondrous sense of imagination.

The thing is that the Bathtub, should a storm come, is actually located on the wrong side of the levees. And when such a storm does come, Hushpuppy’s world is thrown for a loop, she must face the reality with her imagination as her whole world is, literally, sinking, and try her best to survive, to save both her home and her ailing father. She is an incredible character, one who’s totally in touch with the natural world that surrounds her, and who uses that great connection as well as her childish imagination to create a realistically magical world for herself that will both allow her to cope as well as to face the harsh reality of her situation.

Ms. Wallis is a force of nature, and Hushpuppy can be added to the list that includes Katniss and Merida and continue to make 2012 a year for truly kickass female characters. She embodies this hugely resourceful little girl living in true desolation, super brave and confident against truly hard times, using her imagination to look at it all with a new set of eyes. And just like this movie couldn’t have come from anyone else than Behn Zeitlin as it’s so original because of his vision, this movie also wouldn’t have been the same with anyone but Ms. Wallis in this role. She’s flawless, one of those instances in which someone acting for the first time is a big plus as she just feels so natural in the role.

This is like watching a poem come to life, with dreamlike imagery that evokes some Terrence Malick flick, and I was just sincerely stunned by most of it. I was really enthralled watching these community do what they do best: getting by. Watching Mr. Zeitlin and Ms. Wallis take us on a truly gripping journey that, without them once mentioning Katrina, has the shadow of that disaster looming over them, not to put a dour stamp on the proceedings, but to maybe help inform them in a way.

I don’t know what else to say. I really don’t want to give anything away, not about what Hushpuppy goes through, not about how her relationship with her father is shaped. Not because I could spoil something, but because this is the kind of film that you should experience knowing as little as possible about it. To experience this first-time director who has crafted some truly impeccable visuals and who has a knack for creating some great atmosphere, to experience all of these actors, the vast majority of which are making their debuts, and understand why that lack of experience makes them the best fits for this film, to see how they bring this sense of authenticity to the procedures that makes it all so convincing. Go see Beasts of the Southern Wild. Go see a masterpiece, a striking debut, a brilliant performance, a force of nature through and through. You’ll be transported elsewhere, and you’ll love it.

Grade: A+

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2 Responses to “[Review] – Beasts Of The Southern Wild”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies July 25, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I REALLY wish this was playing near me.

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