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Beasts of the Southern Wild - Review

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

BENH Zeitlin’s Beasts of The Southern Wild arrives off the back of dual festival success in Sundance and Cannes where it won, respectively, the Grand Jury prize and the Camera d’Or.

It’s a dark fairytale told in a very real world from the perspective of a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) as she attempts to survive and make sense of her world.

Featuring a cast of non-actors and set against the backdrop of a little known community known as The Bathtub in Louisiana, this takes place against the backdrop of a storm on the scale of Hurricane Katrina.

For Hushpuppy, life is already hard by virtue of the fact her mother has long since gone (or been washed away) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), is a strict disciplinarian struggling with a fatal illness.

Forced to grow up fast and told never to cry, Hushpuppy already has the world on her shoulders and even imagines herself to be its saviour, despite being hunted by giant aurochs (warthogs) who have been released from within the melting polar ice caps.

Zeitlin’s film is a distinct piece of work that certainly won’t cater to every taste. But it’s notable for several reasons and works as a bittersweet tale of empowerment and triumph against adversity that plays very much against the Hollywood prototype. The victories here come at cost.

However, the film boasts a number of things in its favourl. The performances, for starters, draw you in, feeling raw and, in Henry’s case, unsentimental. Wallis, too, displays a maturity beyond her years but is an engaging guide, combining moments of childlike innocence with feisty determination and a survivor’s instinct.

Yet she is, for all her father’s attempts to persuade her otherwise, a young girl struggling to grow up without a mother, who she regularly searches for to seek guidance.

The rest of her community is equally colourful, a rogues gallery of forgotten people who would rather be left alone anyway to enjoy the life they’ve made regardless of the continual threat posed by weather.

And therein lies another of the film’s strengths – it’s environment. The Bathtub is a shockingly primal place that affords no home comforts and dubious hygiene yet its basis in reality and its existence in the shadow of New Orleans has a timely relevance that is truly eye-opening.

The fantasy element may jar with some (and almost has a Where The Wild Things Are element to it) while the raw style of Zeitlin’s direction occasionally makes it difficult to see everything that’s going on, or even to hear all of the dialogue. But this arguably lends it a more authentic, almost documentary like feel.

Hence, for the bravery of its performances and the way in which it stands as a unique piece of work it’s easy to see why it has won so many friends. It is well worthy of the accolades being bestowed upon it.

View photos from the film

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 93mins
UK Release Date: October 19, 2012