Beasts Of The Southern Wild REVIEW

Young Quvenzhané Wallis: worthy of an Oscar nomination?

Release Date: 19 October 2012
12A | 93 minutes
Distributor: StudioCanal
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana

When a film’s credits include the name of the person in charge of “Pig Adoption Services”, you can tell that there’s going to be something rather odd about it. And odd it is. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a startlingly original indie production that will stay with you for years, a film so intense you can almost feel the heat of the swamp in which it was filmed. Most of this intensity comes from its extraordinary cast, with the two lead roles played by untried, unprofessional actors. Perhaps that’s why they’re so believable: they’re as wild and untamed as the beasts of the film’s title.

Everything is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, only five when she auditioned), who lives in a forgotten coastal area of America’s deep south known as the Bathtub. Thanks to melting ice caps, the Bathtub is about to vanish under the waves and destroy the lives of the dirt-poor yet happy folk living there. Naturally, the spectre of Hurricane Katrina looms over this tale.

But while there are post-apocalyptic undertones, the real meat of the story comes from Hushpuppy’s relationship with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), whose animalistic behaviour towards his feral daughter might be deemed abusive in our society. The push-pull of their love for each other (particularly when Wink’s health starts to fail) is an astonishingly gritty study of the concept of “family”.

Despite her young age, Wallis’s Hushpuppy is so convincing that at times you forget she’s not a real person. Driven by her naturalistic performance, Beasts becomes a poem to nature and the creatures that live in it, from the bayou crabs she hungrily devours to the prehistoric oxen who come to life and visit her (the film may have a documentary feel, but there are many elements of fantasy). If Willis doesn’t snag an Oscar nomination next year it’ll be a travesty, although this is such an unusual film we can’t imagine your average Academy voter (white, male, 62, rich) understanding a word of it.

More’s the pity: they could learn something about the savage urge to survive when the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn about you… a theme that makes this film a political statement just as much as it is a bleak American fairytale.

Jayne Nelson

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