FILM REVIEW: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Mark Orton reviews Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander
Rating: M

 

Set in the southern Louisiana swamp lands, on a small island on the wrong side of a levee, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a brilliant rumination on community, industrialisation, natural disaster and climate change.

Written and directed by Benh Zeitlin, it is an insanely ambitious project for someone making a first feature.

Told through the eyes of 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), Zeitlin's dream-like cinematography is balanced by a camera that captures the harsh realism of a group of alcohol-soaked water rats struggling to keep their heads above water.

Skulking about trying to avoid the hot-tempered outbursts of her sick father Wink (Dwight Henry), Hushpuppy's world is turned upside down when a storm detroys their home.

Inspired by the reality of isolated fishing communities under threat from rising sea levels, the residents resist being forced into emergency shelters and attack the source of their distress, the levee.

Meanwhile, intercut within the images of waterborne destitution, a rampaging horde of prehistoric cattle, known as Auroch, leave their Arctic home and take to the sea.

The performances are so fresh and unfettered with any filmic awareness, that they are a perfect counterpoint to the hallucinogenic dream-like sequences that hold the whole thing together ... mostly.

Best thing: Quvenzhane Wallis' performance. It's little wonder Zeitlin altered his script to make Hushpuppy his central character.

Worst thing: Certain moments of ambiguity that looked great, but should have stayed on thecutting-room floor.

See it with: Some patience, an open mind and a desire to be transported.