Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 4 awards.
Nominated for Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis), Best Directing (Benh Zeitlin), Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald), and Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin).
Watched March 30, 2013.

My thoughts about Beasts of the Southern Wild, whether profound or otherwise, are few and far between.  The reviews I have read about the film seem to be on either one side of the fence or the other–complete love or near hate.  I am a rarity and find myself on the fence–neither a devoted follower or a hater.  It’s a coming of age story… but with a six year old.


This is Benh Zeitlin’s breakout film as a director, and as such, he came out with a bang.  Being nominated for four Oscars while taking the risks that he did in the film are gutsy, and I doubt this will be the last we hear from him in Hollywood royalty.


The film is about a community that lives outside the levy in New Orleans around the time of hurricane Katrina, although this fact is not stated in the film.  The main character, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in this place called the Bathtub with her father.  They live in two separate trailers that are perched on stilts.  Her father is not always present, and sometimes Hushpuppy has to fend for herself.  Although it is obvious that her father Wink (Dwight Henry) isn’t the best dad in the world, he is desperate to teach his daughter how to take care of herself because he knows he won’t be around forever.


When the hurricane comes, many in their community leave for the protection of the levy, but those who stay see their home torn apart and spend the next while riding boats on what were once streets.  The animals and sea life slowly die and the group has to decide what to do, because doing anything might make the levy people force them to evacuate.


Hushpuppy occasionally narrates the film with thoughts so profound and poetic, even though it might be in broken english, that it is hard to believe a six year old could phrase anything that way.  And yet, it is believable because we know Hushpuppy, and we know what a stubborn, quiet, intuitive little girl she is.  We also understand the love she has for her home, as well as the imagination that plays out for us on the screen.


Zeitlin used all non-actors for his cast.  The actor who plays Hushpuppy’s dad Wink (Henry) is a baker and has stated no interest in pursuing an acting career.  Many times when non-actors are used, it tears the film apart and very little of the other positive qualities matter.  However, I think the fact that Wallis was nominated for Best Actress, being the youngest ever nominated at nine years old, speaks volumes about the performances in Beasts.


Despite the wonderful acting and the art direction, I found the story hard to connect with.  Even though there are traumatic things happening on screen, I felt little to no connection with the characters and felt very little whenever bad (or good) things happened to them.  The cinematography, at times good, others not, was shot on film instead of HD.  I generally like this quite a lot, but the film utilized the currently very popular style of hand held shots, which is something I can only stand in minimal amounts.  I understand the choice, in part, but think it would have been much more powerful if it was used more sparingly.


I’m not sure whether or not I would recommend this film.  If you are a fan of such brain benders as The Tree of Life by by Terrence Malick, you might enjoy Beast of the Southern Wild, although Zeitlin has a ways to go before he reaches Malick’s genius.  This isn’t a movie to watch casually, but if you are looking for something serious with childhood adventures (in a non-children friendly movie), it might be a good option.

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