DIRECTOR: Benh Zeitlin.
CAST: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Joseph Brown, Philip Lawrence.
SYNOPSIS: Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father, Wink (Henry), live in a ramshackle area of Louisiana known as the Bathtub. Life is full of reverie and the tightknit community hunt for their food all day and party all night. But when a great storm threatens to ruin everything they have, six year-old Hushpuppy and her father face an adventure bigger than they could ever have imagined.
It’s a rare thing to find a film that moves the ground beneath you and shakes you to your core, but Benh Zeitlin’s first feature-length film does just that, investigating the boundaries of primal family life in the back end of Louisiana, while releasing delicately handled political and environmental ripples across the waters of the Bathtub.
Heavily rewarded at this year’s Sundance and set to have a lucrative Awards season, Beasts owes its impeccable mix of exuberance, magnificence and devastating heartache to a cast who hail mainly from the bayou area of Louisiana and are headed by Wink and his young daughter, Hushpuppy.
All long legs, untamed hair and prepubescent belly, Hushpuppy may be an impossibly adorable little creature, but she is also one of the most fierce and captivating screen presences of the year. Undeniably a star and a truly unique find amongst the thousands of young girls who auditioned for the role (Wallis was five at the time of her audition, a year younger than was requested), this remarkable young actress makes a very strong case for instinct over experience.
Delivering an irresistible, recurrent narrative, Hushpuppy is strong-willed and zealous in her appreciation of life – traits that are directly inherited from her father. Wink’s tough love may be predicated on necessity and survival, but he has an ulterior motive for ensuring his young daughter morphs into the King of the Bathtub instead of a dependent, irresolute princess.
Though her relationship with nature is a very profound and playful thing – it is at its most delightful in her attention to animals’ heartbeats – its unpredictable temperament still has the ability to scare her, calling on the necessity for this six year-old who is often wise beyond her years to utilise her boundless imagination to morph her fears into something more readily tangible.
It is in this childlike intake of the mythical Aurochs that are tattooed on her teacher’s (Montana) thigh that Hushpuppy allows these beasts to become, in turn, the destructive force of the great storm that floods the Bathtub, a symbol for survival and a representation of the bayou wanderers themselves.
Though the use of maternal narrative may feel a little anomalous, it fits perfectly within this grandiose fairytale and a world of imagination and Aurochs. It also brings an utterly heartbreaking element that provides Hushpuppy with a far greater drive to grow up and face what the big bad world has to offer.
Grainy and underexposed, Ben Richardson’s cinematography never loses an ounce of the film’s magic and Zeitlin and Dan Romer’s haunting and exultant score (which has more than a hint of a Nick Cave and Clint Mansell fusion about it) is ripe for constant replays.
Devastatingly heartbreaking yet still deliriously uplifting, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is, quite simply, a complete triumph. Beyond emotive, but finding room for laughter, Benh Zeitlin has delivered one of the best films of the year. Hushpuppy wants to make her mark loud enough for future generations to hear and Zeitlin ensures that both he, Quvenzhane Wallis and Hushpuppy will never be forgotten.