It seems there’s always a lull after the glut of Thanksgiving films have made their way to theaters. With nine films opening in a four-week span you need some room to breathe. Now, the openings have seemingly come to a halt with only one wide new release this Friday. So it’s tiem to play catch up. Beasts of the Southern Wild, based on Lucy Alibar’s stage play Juicy and Delicious, has been on my radar ever since winning the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Even when it was released theatrically I still never managed to see it. Finally, I’ve found out what all the fuss is about.
Beasts throws us right into the middle of what appears to be a horrible situation where we find young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) living in the flooded wilds of “The Bathtub.” Here, she lives with her dad Wink (Dwight Henry) and her menagerie of pets. Life is hard growing up on the other side of the levee in a flooded collection of homes and wilderness, offshore of New Orleans. Hushpuppy doesn’t exactly live with Wink but in her own shack within shouting distance. She attends “school” where the kids are scared about the climate change with the threat of melting ice caps and ancient aurochs running amok.
One day Wink goes missing and wanders back wearing a hospital gown and bracelet. He won’t explain what happened to him causing Hushpuppy to get his attention by starting her shack on fire and hiding in a cardboard box. Now Wink is forced to take her in and things go from bad to worse when Wink suffers a possible heart attack and a storm whips its way through town savaging everything “The Bathtub” has left. Now Hushpuppy and Wink are forced to head out in their makeshift motorboat to find fellow survivors or be left high and dry. As Hushpuppy says about their predicament, “The end of the world already happened.”
Director Benh Zeitlin brings quite the experience on such a limited budget. Reportedly around $1.3 million, he pulls off some amazing visuals, which are probably helped that there are only a handful of visual effects, mostly involving the aurochs. Cinematographer Ben Richardson helps out by keeping things on a documentary level, which only makes Hushpuppy’s hard reality ring even truer. And as for Hushpuppy, young Quvenzhané Wallis certainly holds her own. Feisty yet fragile, Wallis throws herself into the role proving her a force to be reckoned with. The title may make you think there’s more literal “beasts” roaming through the film, but what we find out is that it just may be all of us who are Beasts of the Southern Wild.
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