Reel Reviews | Beasts of the Southern Wild

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A mystical story provides the palette for an imaginative girl and her father as they battle apocalyptic conditions in the beautiful and poetic film, The Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Before audiences see the opening titles, we hear the voice of the film’s narrator and star, six-year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané (pronounced Kwah-VAHN-Jah-Nay) Wallis). She introduces the audience to her tight-knit southern Delta community, nicknamed the Bathtub, and while the conditions are sparse, there is an abundance of love and pride.

Hushpuppy and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry) live in a couple of separate trailers among a group of various farm animals in the woods. Whether playing with her little animal friends or simply at one with nature, for Hushpuppy, the Bathtub is the prettiest place on earth. Full of imagination and wonder, Hushpuppy is grounded enough to understand’s life cold reality even with her friends from the animal kingdom. “Meat, every animal is a part of the buffet of the universe,” she is told.

But there are ominous signs throughout the community as one of the adults warns, “The fabric of the universe is coming unraveled . . . y’all better learn to survive.” For Hushpuppy, that manifests itself either in visions of her long-deceased mother or of an army of long extinct prehistoric creatures called aurochs that haunt her dreams.

Bonding during “feed up time,” Wink and Hushpuppy share a Jekyll / Hyde complex relationship one moment is very close and intimate at other times is very distant. Hiding the severity of his medical condition from his daughter, Wink wants to ensure that she will be able to survive without him. After he disappears for a couple days, leaving Hushpuppy alone to fend for herself, the upset daughter confronts her father and strikes him. He collapses to the ground sending the frightened child seeking help. Fearing she has killed her father, Hushpuppy is enveloped in guilt, but is all a dream?

Chaos ensues when a historic storm blows through and literally floods the Bathtub, forcing the recovered Wink, Hushpuppy and their neighbors to bond together to survive.

Director Behn Zeitlin’s dreamy fantasy fable is a beautifully conceived, well executed piece of cinema that doesn’t rely on gimmicks or extraordinary special effects to draw audiences in. It uses old fashioned storytelling and a pair of mesmerizing performances from Henry and young child discovery, Wallis. Placing the entire production on her back, stunningly, she delivers. Forced to display a variety of emotions, Wallis successfully transports audience on a fantastic voyage, one which will resonate with them long after the final frame has wrapped.

Filled with unbelievable imagery, messages of self reliance and featuring the youngest future Best Actress Oscar nominee, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a revelation and a powerful example of the magic of the movies!

Grade: A+