Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

97.

★★★★

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easterly

Six year old Hushpuppy (Wallis) is sure that people will know her name and her story in the future. Like the strange, resilient beasts that roamed the earth long before she did, the tough little girl draws a connection between them, herself, the Louisiana bayou community she belongs to, and the entire universe. So sure of her own strength and sense of purpose in the world, Hushpuppy believes that she will survive, not simply the poverty-stricken nature of her life post-Katrina, but also the tests of time.

Helloooo?

As Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature-length film, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an ambitiously expressionistic film. Drawing from the imagination of a six year old who lives with her father in a derelict house of junk, odds and ends, Zeitlin brings magic realism to conditions that most people would flee from. But for the tight-knit community of “The Bathtub” – a mainland strip that seems cut off from the real world – this swampy and poverty-stricken place is their home. And regardless of what authorities tell them, and what tortures nature seems to send in their direction, the people of The Bathtub are determined to stay.

For Hushupuppy, the determination of her fellow neighbors, and of her own father, Wink (Henry), in particular, are a paradoxical source of motivation and concern. Because while the youngster loves showing off her muscles and proving how strong she is, the thought of no longer having a home, and potentially being alone is a frightening prospect.

Beasts of the Southern Wild does tangle itself a little in trying to express multiple flights of fantasy and ideas, but all in all, the depth and intensity of Quvenzhané Wallis’ performance, and the wonderful intimacy of Hushpuppy’s story, makes for significantly powerful and moving cinema. For first time director, Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a markedly beautiful achievement.

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