Blallywood Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild
What a time for film. Nominated in the category for Best Actress, the Academy has the oldest actress ever nominated and the youngest actress ever nominated. 85-year old Emanuelle Riva is nominated for Amour and 9-year old Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild. This bit of trivia alone is symbolic of the wonderful diversity of experience that has been immortalized on film by major studios this year. It’s exciting and offers a bit of hope for the future of mainstream filmmaking. Tonight I had the pleasure of seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Beasts is about a precocious and rugged little girl called Hushpuppy (Wallis). Hushpuppy lives in the impoverished wetlands of Louisiana with her hotheaded and sickly father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Despite the profound poverty in which the people of Hushpuppy’s community live, they are rich in spirit, seafood, and soul. A large part of the opening is devoted to welcoming us to the community and establishing dynamic. The people of the bayou are proud and strong. I was swept away by the stunning imagery and the cinematic point of view was as if the camera had the eyes of Hushpuppy. After Wink and his friends decide to bear down the hatches as a huge storm approaches, they awake to see their town covered in floodwater and though the storm is nameless, you can’t help but think of the parallel with Katrina. The survivors band together to console and feed each other and that event starts a beautiful chain of adventures for Hushpuppy and her friends.
This film is probably like nothing you’ve seen before. The plot is a little muddy, but moves like a “slice of life” drama. We happen upon this town in the midst of great celebration and great turmoil. What’s most interesting is watching the players deal with what’s happening around them. It feels very real, almost like a documentary.
Boasting many film debuts, performances are raw and emotional. Henry’s performance, though erratic at times, is visceral and cold. He finds impressive range and motivates his harsh exterior with fearful uncertainty regarding his illness. Wallis simply leaps from the screen. Most of her lines are narration as you watch her innocently experiencing the events in the movie. She demonstrates great depth and strength while still mastering the beautiful stubborn curiosity characteristic of a 9-year old taking care of herself. For someone her age, the performance is a real triumph and the nomination is well deserved.
There are just a few moments when I got lost in the pacing of the film, and there are times when the energy of the film seems to lag. After the flood, there are many interspersed scenes with large, ancient beasts, which were a beautiful way to bring home of the metaphor of beasts in the title, until Hushpuppy awkwardly confronts the beasts before reuniting with her father in one of the closing scenes. I thought converging the ethereal world of the beasts with the real circumstances were a bit base and weakened the symbolism. Still well worth seeing! If it isn’t playing at a theatre near you, rent it on Amazon. B+.