With the recent destruction of Hurricane Sandy, Beasts of the Southern Wild tells a story that may hit closer to home even for those who aren’t usually worried about vicious tropical storms, or the threat of having your neighbourhood flooded to the point where boats are the only mode of transportation. The film, while dark in tone, is filled with beautiful imagery, and wonderful shots; as well as plenty of allegories that leave it up to the viewer as to how they want to interpret them. Regardless of how you choose to view it, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an astonishing piece of work that captures the vivid imagination, and sheer bravery of a young girl trying to survive in a harsh world.
The girl is six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), and her home is called “The Bathtub”, a small island community cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. The elders in the community tell tales of the icecaps, and how they’ll soon melt and trap Bathtub underwater for the rest of eternity; and how when the icecaps melt, they will free prehistoric beats called aurochs, who will reign down destruction on the world much like they did when they ruled the earth so long ago.
Hushpuppy lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry), who is always looking to toughen her up, teach her the ways of survival, and prepare her for the days when he’ll no longer be around to care for her. Their relationship isn’t one that many would deem close – Hushpuppy even has her own “house” across the yard from her dad – but the maternal instincts are there, and in this environment, that’s all that matters. There’s a daily routine that Hushpuppy is used to, and one day when her father is nowhere to be found, she has to begin to harness her training and do her best to get by, as she’s unsure if her father will ever return.
He does, however, dressed in a hospital gown, and slightly disoriented. He snaps at Hushpuppy, who pushes back in her own rebellious way. The confrontation shows how dire things are in their world and also just shows how hard life is on them in general. Not long after this encounter, an incoming storm threatens everything Hushpuppy has come to know, and her strength, and courage will be put to the ultimate test.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is told from the perspective of Hushpuppy through a beautifully poetic narration that balances the wonderment and innocence of a child, with the experience and knowledge of someone who’s lived a hard life, and seen more suffering than people should have to see. Wallis is absolutely brilliant, and one of the best child actors to appear in recent years. This was her first film, as she was five when she auditioned, and her raw natural talent gives Hushpuppy the voice she needs to carry the entire film on her shoulders, with seemingly little effort. The film is fantastic, but Wallis is absolutely flawless, and her performance alone makes this film worth seeking out.
Henry, who plays Wink, is also a first-time actor, as he actually owns a pastry shop across from where the production company Court 13 moved in to make this movie. After they swayed him to audition, he won the role, and ended up rehearsing during the night so that he could still bake and keep his shop open. Like Wallis, Henry has a raw talent that really pulls the viewer in to the hardship Wink faces trying to race a little girl under these trying circumstances. Both Wallis and Henry can next be seen in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, which stars has Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. After seeing their work here, I have no doubt that they both can hold their own against these two Hollywood stars, and look forward to seeing it.
Director Benh Zeitlin does a really great job of capturing the world he wanted to create on an independent budget. The world does seem lost, the storms seem real, and the water is abundant. The tricks used to make the film work are interesting to see in the special features, and it really shows the creativity and vision that Zeitlin had going into the making of this film, and how everyone around him harnessed that energy and made it happen.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantasy film on one level, but I see it mainly as a beautiful and haunting look at an imperfect world through a child’s eyes. There are a few moments that are only briefly touched upon, and while not everything needs to be spelled out to the viewer, some instances could benefit from a bit more understanding. That said, this is a story from the viewpoint of Hushpuppy, and she is only six years old, so a lack of knowledge and understanding is expected with this restriction.
Still, the overall theme and message come through strong, and Wallis, Henry and Zeitlin have all proven that they can knock it out of the park their first time at bat. Whether or not they can keep that momentum going in the future is unknown, but what is known is that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film that shouldn’t be missed.
The DVD transfer of the film looks good. There’s a grainy feel to it all, but it fits into the tone of the film, and only distracts a couple of times during night scenes where it’s highlighted by candlelight and such. The audio is strong, and the music works very well. Overall, it’s a solid transfer that helps tell the story.
The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild – This is a 23 minute feature that really covers a lot and is a must-watch for anyone who enjoyed the movie – and even those who may not have. Just watching how the production came together is inspiring, and seeing the audition process, and construction of various sets is really something.
Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary – There are 14 minutes of deleted scenes here, and the director points out why the scenes were cut, and what he liked about them in the first place. I agree with the cuts, as they definitely would’ve just slowed down the pacing, which worked well at roughly 90 minutes, but would’ve suffered had they drawn it out with any of these additions.
Auditions – There are three auditions here, where you can watch Wallis and Henry do their individual auditions, and finally, you can see them both audition with one another to solidify their chemistry to the filmmakers. Needless to say, it’s obvious here why the two got the parts out of the thousands that auditioned.
Glory at Sea – This is a 25 minute short film by director Benh Zeitlin, which can be watched in its entirety right here.
Entertainment One presents Beasts of the Southern Wild. Directed by: Benh Zeitlin. Written by: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin. Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander, Joseph Brown, Kaliana Brower. Running time: 93 minutes. Rating: PG. Released: December 18, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.