Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Certificate: 12A (BBFC)
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release: October 19th
Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives on the ‘Bathtub’ with her somewhat unstable father Wink (Henry). A small Bayou island community, Bathtub is seemingly plagued by rising waters as a result of global warming. As the story swells from movement to movement, the scenes are cut together with footage of enormous glaciers dropping into the sea, unleashing frozen pre-historic beasts, and setting them on their route to Hushpuppy and the Bathtub. Quite separately, Hushpuppy must deal with her mysteriously injured and now ill father as the waters rise to cover the island in the wake of an enormous flood.
A celebratory firework display opens this heartfelt piece. Nostalgic 16mm footage tracing the innocent joy of good times on the Bathtub. Being immersed in the revelry and joy of traditional Bayou celebrations deeply contrasts with the main body of the film. Once the opening has passed, Beasts of the Southern Wild delves into the painfully tragic trappings of Hushpuppy’s daily life with her father. Wink, having returned in an unexplained hospital gown, drinks and rages against the looming, albeit late, veneer of modernisation. Living out of two shacks in the wilds of the island, he bestows upon his daughter his own brand of survivalist education. As the water threatens to ruin them all, Wink refuses to leave, adamant that the Bathtub is his home.
The tragic nostalgia enshrined within the proud, but lost population of the Bathtub resonates through the scorched cinematography of Zeitlin’s film. As the direction traces a child’s perspective across the film, viewers witness a very particular loss of innocence: an aesthetic and contextual tour de force. Cavernous contemporary alienation blends with cinematic magical realism to release a beautifully emotive story, awash in elegant tragedy.
Starkly reminiscent of Alejo Carpentier’s novellas of magical realism, Beasts evokes the noble savagery of a Western world tribe, proud in their willful ignorance of modernisation, and scornful of the society that lives beyond the levee. In a particularly powerful scene, the stubborn remainders of Bathtub are dragged to a relief centre where they kick and scream and plot and plan their glorious escape from civilisation. The glimmering flow of the film’s template resonates through the intensity of the score, occasionally placed alongside the charge of monstrous beasts, released from an icy tomb by civilisation, the harbingers of melting icecaps.
This gloriously emotive epic punches far above its weight class, delivering monumental and evocative performances from the two leads and a story utterly beautiful in its simplicity. Beasts of the Southern Wild demands the attention it could be destined to never receive, cradling the hearts of an audience in the turmoil of its tragic, yet heroic journey. The pure and driven sentiment behind this project is sure to have this film remembered.