Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes
A scintillating debut from Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild may be hard to pin down, but it has unprecedentedly carved itself out as the independent film of 2012. Perhaps this is due to the director's captivatingly-crafted concept of a Louisianan Bayou community - branded ‘The Bathtub' - separated from the rest of mankind by a levee, allowing its residents to run amok within their own special community. It could, and probably is, equally thanks to Quvenzhané Wallis, a 9-year-old newcomer who has arguably out-acted every actress in the business playing Hushpuppy, a remarkable character brought to life by the little gem (as it stands, she is officially the youngest ever person to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.) The truth is, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a magically effortless watch that remains – despite its attempt at commenting on eco issues of today – a pleasure to endure. Hushpuppy’s opening narration, occurring as we witness her escapades amongst the close-knit community, divulge all the information the audience require; one day, 'The Bathtub' will sink, the weather eroding every last man-made shack away. Until then, they aren't being moved.
Six years old in the film, Hushpuppy’s fending is overseen by more mentor than father, Wink (Dwight Henry, plucked from a local New Orlean bakery to appear in Zeitlin’s film) whose ailing health is something that isn’t to be acknowledged. Henry is a sensation, bounding his way through the entire running time, bringing life to a role that has the life leaving him. The film has overarching allegorical themes, none more thematic than a particularly aggressive storm releasing ancient aurochs which are shown to be charging through the film aimlessly with every other scene. Nothing is aimless in this film however, with Hushpuppy the heart that sustains the life that surrounds her. Zeitlin embraces the fantastical, depicting his vision amongst a setting unfamiliar to most, hence making it strangely understandable; we are told how Hushpuppy’s faceless mother presence, who provides Wallis’ character with an aim, is a figure whose very presence could ignite flames and boil water – this is recollected to us by Wink. The point is, in this separated community increasingly under threat, anything is possible... And after the recognition the film has received from this years Oscar nominations, for first-time director Benh Zeitlin, possibilities are endless.
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