Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhan√© Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly
Plot: Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes). Won Grand Jury Prize and Best Cinematography (Sundance). Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay.
Runtime: 93min
Rating: PG13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.




“I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”

I caught this little charming American independent film before the Oscar nominations were announced. At that time, I thought it had a shout for a nod in the Best Actress and the expanded Best Picture categories. But how surprised we were when we learnt that the film scored additional nominations in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories.

In one of the most auspicious feature debuts for an American writer-director for quite some time, the spotlight is now permanently shining on Benh Zeitlin, who will feel the pressure to deliver a follow-up as good, if not better than Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The film focuses on a young girl called Hushpuppy, who is played by the magnificent Quvenzhane Wallis. Hushpuppy lives with her ailing father (Dwight Henry), together with small groups of other inhabitants that make up the bayou community. When a torrential storm hits, the entire delta becomes flooded, unleashing large ancient beasts called auroachs.

Hushpuppy learns to survive in the hostile environment, while at the same time learning the meaning of life through courage and love. This rite-of-passage film is confidently directed by Zeitlin, who seems to effortlessly blend gritty imagery with a poetic outlook.

Beasts of the Southern Wild meanders its way to our hearts. The film may lack a strong storyline, but it is not lacking of a soul. And that is enough to charm most viewers into liking it. Opting for a realist docudrama feel, Zeitlin adds elements of fantasy to an otherwise bleak picture that is shot primarily with dizzying hand-held cameras.

Ecological themes are bountiful such as the need to protect the environment and to live in sustenance with nature. Much of the Zeitlin's film takes place on a waterlogged wasteland, a challenge to shoot in such elemental conditions. There is an especially outstanding sequence when the storm hits with the stunning sound mix adding a whole new level of realism.

The world, as it appears, is seen through the eyes of Hushpuppy. As curious as she is about her world as we are with the desolate setting of the film, Zeitlin's work does open our eyes, and occasionally our senses, to the plight of the impoverished and homeless. They continue to soldier on despite facing tremendous challenges from Man and Nature.

Hushpuppy slowly understands the mortality of life, but sees imagination as a route to happiness and fulfillment. In a nutshell, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a decent film that strives to break the mould of conventional stories, and it does rather well as an independent film. Of course, with the awards buzz it has been getting, one may be compelled to think that it may just be a tad overrated. You know, just a tad.  

Verdict: A meandering film that works its charm through Zeitlin's confident direction and a likable performance by young Wallis.




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