A unique, magical, beautiful, and energetic film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is challenging and artistic, but remains entertaining and captivating.
The Bathtub is a microscopic town in the bayou, on ‘wild’ side of the levee. It is full of poverty-stricken characters who are perfectly content and happy living in their situation. To them, the life on ‘the other side of the levee’ is undesirable. Here in the Bathtub, they are free. For once, here is a film that is about poverty, but is not ‘poverty porn.’ It chooses instead to look at poverty as if it was a good thing, as if it set people free, not as a commentary, but rather to show that these people choose to make the best of what they have. This disconnect with our real world experience and what our teachers and parents have told us makes Beasts a fascinatingly rich film.
Here in the bayou, in poverty, we find a cast of characters who are totally unique. Most can barely be understood, but the two at the center are the six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Their relationship is unlike anything else: they both have their own house, and Hushpuppy is really quite self reliant. Wink is not quite abusive, but can get quite angry, and constantly calls his daughter “man,” as one would call a good, male friend. Much of what he teachers her is how to live on her own and how to survive. Quvenzhané Wallis is a wonderful, miniature actress. She displays the strength of a grown woman alongside the shyness of a small girl. Her imagination is rich and her voice overs that explain to us how the world works are philosophically rich and smart, but clearly shows the voice and imagination of a young child.
In one of its stranger turns, the film introduces mystical creatures that thaw out of the melting polar ice caps. These creatures awake and depart on a journey that will ultimately end in the bayou. The creatures existed alongside the cavemen before they were frozen, and the notion of their reemergence fits perfectly into Hushpuppy’s imaginative world. For all intents and purposes, they do in fact exist, but they remain somewhat metaphorical. This theme of an unstoppable threat is meant to tie the film’s themes of climate change, of the way human beings overly shelter themselves, and of poverty. The world, like Hushpuppy says, is breaking. It is up to her to fix it, because she sees herself as the cause, and because of this, she will ultimately have to face the creatures that are released due to the fracturing. As odd as a concept as this might seem on paper, the film handles it extraordinarily well. There is a sense of dread attached to these things. They are not presented in a hokey manner, and their symbolism fits very well into the overall arch and theme of the story.
The locations are wonderful. Run down, tin roof houses perched in the trees. The ground is wet and lush and green. It all feels so genuine. The handheld Super16 cinematography highlights the organicism of the place. The greens render vividly and truthfully and the noticeable film grain heightens the sense of realism. This is a world that feels soft and looks soft, no harsh lines of the city, and the cinematography supports this well.
Another triumphant success with this film is the usage of pro-filming special effects. The creatures are accomplished with rigs, costumes, real animals, miniatures, etc. The fact that there is very little digital effects utilized to accomplish these creatures is fascinating. They feel like they are a part of the world.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a remarkable independent film that tackles much more than its budget would seem to allow and ultimately pulls it off quite successfully. Not only is it quite unique, it feels unique. There isn’t much else like it. It presents a vision of the world and poverty and family that is wholly unique to the character that it develops, but remains true to the imagination and wonder of the young mind.
Art Direction: 10/10
“Film as Entertainment” Rating: 8/10
“Film as Art” Rating: 10/10