The cast/crew bit: written & directed by Benh Zeitlin, starring Quvenzhané Wallis & Dwight Henry
The ten-word synopsis: Half naturalistic drama, half daylight hallucinations of a young girl.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. My arm, for so long hovering in and around my chin, stroking the unkempt mess I call a beard, dropped unequivocally to my lap. My lungs took a deep breath in. My eyes widened and, oh, hello, looks like my tear ducts have opened for production. There’s a moment in Beasts of the Southern Wild that conjures this reaction. The most innate, heartfelt reaction that I’ve felt towards any film this year. And for this scene alone, it must be applauded.
While it’d be a step too far to call this scene towards the end the film in microcosm, Beasts of the Southern Wild is such a lovely, well-crafted piece of film making that I don’t want to even have to touch on its flaws. It’s filmed entirely in shakey-o-vision, a personal pet peeve of mine, which is initially nauseating and irritating in equal measure. However, after about 10 minutes, I ceased to notice the wobble-cam. In fact, if anything, once the burst of dizziness had passed, it added to the experience. It was about one and a quarter hours in that I remembered I was sat in the cinema, watching a film. I honestly cannot remember being so swept up in the progression of a film in my life before. There are films I’ve enjoyed more, or films I’ve been more emotionally engaged with, granted. Yet this sensation, this feeling of just being in the room with these characters, felt new. The fact that this doesn’t feel like a film to me, rather a life, is the biggest tribute you could ever hope to pay débutante writer/director Benh Zeitlin.
As such, if you asked me to explain the plot, I’d struggle to do so. There’s a little girl, known as Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis in one of the finest displays of child acting I’ve ever seen. She lives in a primitive settlement called the Bathtub somewhere in the South of America. Her mother disappeared when she was young, and her father is a determined but stubborn and irresponsible man. One day, the Bathtub floods and an adventure of some kind begins. There’s a surrealism in a lot of elements, but it’s shot in such a naturalistic style that I didn’t notice (Or more likely understand) the removal from reality. The score is fantastic and superb performances seem to have been raining down on Zeitlin in some kind of great acting flood. Dwight Henry, who plays the aforementioned father, was apparently the local baker, and had to be talked into playing the part, but fits it oh so well. And you can do your own role/bread roll pun.
I went into Beasts of the Southern Wild knowing only the fact that it was getting massively impressive reviews, and it starred some baker. I was blown away. Hopefully you haven’t taken too much of this, admittedly quite lightweight, review in and go to see it with the capacity to be surprised at just how wondrous it is. It’s a cliché, but it is genuinely life-affirming and you owe yourself the chance to experience the couple of seconds I described in the opening paragraph.
8 horned beasties out of 10