BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
(Dir. Benh Zeitlin, 2012)
Meet Hushpuppy, a six-year old girl in the near future who has to grow up fast, what with the waters rising through the flooded terrain of her homeland, her mother gone missing, her father suffering from a severe illness, and a heard of prehistoric creatures (aurochs) approaching who just thawed out from the melting icecaps.
Like in a lot of tales of environmental collapse, the how and whys are put aside, and we’re left with the daily struggle for survival.
And Hushpuppy, as played by the plucky Quvenzhané Wallis, seems like she can hold her own in what they call the “the Bathtub,” a fictional Louisiana bayou which has been obviously hit by something a lot bigger than Hurricane Katrina.
Hushpuppy’s fierce father (a greatly invested Dwight Henry) practices tough love in hopes of strengthening his daughter’s resolve. Wallis and Henry’s scenes together, usually in tight dark cheap confines, sear in the psyche as much or more than the imagery of the harsh elements surrounding them.
The eerie, but more often powerfully uplifting, score by director Zeitlin and Dan Romer enhances much of the movie, with a throbbing thrust that helps us maneuver through what its often very uncomfortable material.
There is an undeniable murkiness to the narrative, with maybe too much shaky cam action, but Wallis’s spirit provides something strong to latch onto. She’s an actress who is definitely going places, and whether one connects with this film (I just barely did – I more admired it than I enjoyed it), her performance is a piece of raw beauty and one every film fan should experience.
Although her narration throughout the film can be cloying, when Wallis states that “the scientists of the future will know once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the bathtub,” you definitely believe her.