Published on July 29th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Beasts of the Southern Wild 
Summary: One of the most original films of recent memory. This neo-fantasy tale is full of striking images and has energy to spare. Youngster Quvenzhané Wallis turns in a fully-fleshed performance as the spirited Hushpuppy.
PG-13 | 94 min.
Director: Benh Zeitlin | Screenplay: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Studio: Cinereach, Court 13, Journeyman Pictures | Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Every year an indie flick comes out of nowhere and becomes a runaway favorite. In 2003, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation made us fall in love with Japan, Michel Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind blew our collective mind, and 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine took us on a road trip with a massively screwed up family. In 2012, director Benh Zeitlin joined that list by spinning his own indie gem.
Costing only around $1.8 million to produce, rarely has such a small movie felt so large. Beasts of the Southern Wild is exhilarating from its stunning opening sequence to its poignant final moments–remaining packed full of life throughout.
Beasts is also one of the more difficult films to define that I’ve seen recently. Typically we want to put movies in a box when it comes to genre — but this one doesn’t allow that. I’m tempted to call it a fantasy set in modern Louisiana, but there isn’t much to fantasize about when it comes to the lives of our main characters.
The story focuses on a father and daughter living on an island called “The Bathtub”, located smack in the middle of the bayou. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a six-year-old girl who might as well be considered her own guardian as her father Wink (Dwight Henry) lives in a separate trailer nearby and seems to have wished for a son. The relationship between the two main characters is as hard to define as the film itself is.
Wink isn’t necessarily an abusive dad but he certainly is a neglectful one. Sometimes he seems to keep Hushpuppy at arm’s length but when she’s in real danger, he’s there to calm her down and protect her.
Henry does a fine job projecting both the bitter disappointment Wink seems to feel in his own life and the strong sense of passion the character feels about his community. The revelation in this small cast of unknown actors though, is the adolescent Wallis. I was among those shocked when a nine-year-old was nominated for an Academy Award but after seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild for myself, I realize it would have been a crime not to nominate her.
Hushpuppy is in every single scene of the film and handles narration during some of the more abstract moments. The success of this film almost solely depended on Wallis’ performance and she stepped up in a huge way, carrying this picture like a 60-pound Atlas.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is certainly a film that most people will find difficult to relate and connect with but it gets huge points for originality. We’ve seen New Orleans represented many times on screen but to the residents of “The Bathtub”, Mardi Gras would likely feel like a dull evening. These characters live totally on the fringes of society and are completely fine with that — so much so that some even stick around during a brutal storm that submerges the entire island for days.
This passionate movie is all about what makes a community. The ties that bind these characters together are not immediately clear but nonetheless they watch out for one another like blood relatives. “The Bathtub,” with a style and architecture all its own has to go down as one of the most memorable movie settings of the last decade.
With Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zeitlin and his cast have painted a totally original portrait of life literally outside the walls of typical society. This is a picture about survival, community, and individuality…or wait, is it about freedom to eat a crab however you damn well please?
It’s better just to go along for the ride on this one!