Beasts of the Southern Wild Directed by: Benh Zeitlin Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: July 13, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A young girl named Hushpuppy (Wallis) learns to survive in her Louisiana island (called The Bathtub) with her father (Henry) after a large hurricane hits.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you like unique indie movie experiences, this one is for you. Fans of movies that tackle man vs. nature would especially be interested in this one.
There's certainly a bleakness to the self-sufficient, raw-pig-meat-eating, shack home environment that a filmmaker looking to explore (or expose) such a very non-Hollywood environment as The Bathtub could embrace. Beasts of the Southern Wild has the setting that stereotypically could be made for something that looks at events from an outsider's perspective - or in this case, those who think residents of such land are helpless and need to be rescued.
Beasts of the Southern Wild stands up from such cynicism as it very much feels like its made from this environment (called The Bathtub in the film), and it very much involves the viewer in such a landscape. The story that it tells brings us into a unique scenario (the other side of the Katrina chapter), but the Beasts' real strength comes not as much from its characters but its aesthetics. Aesthetics, aesthetics, aesthetics.
Sound and sight are utilized in a lively way rarely seen in such an environment. The story accepts the simplicity of its land, but wonderfully gives it texture. The storms are loud, the POV cameras sprint, huge beasts trample buildings - this place, whether it lacks the conditions that we consider essential for survival or not, is alive.
The cinematography, which earned official Cannes kudos earlier this year, is like a much more limber version of Terrence Malick. (Think of those scenes in The Tree of Life that ran with the children through suburban streets). It's a joy to see the camera sprint with characters on tracking shots as they run down streets, or follow a character like Hushpuppy close as she frantically travels through the woods. In a successful attempt to get us to see the world from her perspective, this movie's camerawork gives us a wealthy amount of point-of-view shots from her shorter eyesight.
Music is especially a motivating factor to this movie's pulse. With full arrangements, many pieces of this score like introductions to Arcade Fire songs, or full-on instrumentals by the group. As they do drive the movie (with a loud poppy march), the similarities are so strong (if not distracting) that you'll be waiting for Win Butler to start howling away.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, originally a stage play, looks the type of movie that changed when special effects were brought in by a boost of budget. But like Chronicle, such helps complete the experience of the story. In specifics, I am referring to the image of the actual beasts, which barrel through the story as Hushpuppy begins her trans-formative journey. Accompanied by monstrous sound design (which elevates this movie beyond typical lower budget aesthetic expectations alone), these bustling boars effectively present a sense that is larger than regular life.
With a surprisingly uplifting attitude towards survival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that will simply make you feel good, about these vibrant characters, and the places they have come from. Even more so, it will make you feel better about the great potentials of non-actors, natural locations, and most of all, independent film.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10