Beasts of the Southern Wild is the first feature film by director Behn Zeitlin; and what an impressive first feature it is! Although I felt slightly disappointed by it, it’s one of the most artistically beautiful films I’ve seen in a while.
Six year old Hushpuppy is faced with both her father’s fading health and melting ice caps in this stunning fantasy drama, where she must learn the ways of courage and love. Her hot-headed father is dying, and the prehistoric beasts known as ‘Aurochs’ are slowly being released from the melting ice caps, and Hushpuppy must travel on an emotional and life affirming journey.
Despite being visually beautiful, for me the film lacked something. The presence of the beasts themselves never really made sense and I’m still unsure as to whether they were real or just a metaphor for something. They didn’t feature as much as I thought and had very little impact on the story and characters, so I’ve decided to assume that they are metaphorical!
The performance of nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy is fantastic and one of the best young performances I’ve seen in a while. She stole the show and was an absorbing and believable character. The relationship between her and her father is rocky and at times questionable when he loses his temper, but for the most part its loving and endearing and it’s this sense of love and attachment that drives the plot.
There’s a real community feel throughout the film which is heartwarming and moving, when the whole community is faced with disaster they all pull together to help each other survive.
The photography and animation is stunning, the beasts although fictitious look very realistic. They could easily have been very contrived and laughable but the clever animation and the use of cinematography avoids it with ease. Some of the shots are breathtaking.
I didn’t really get the story, there’s not much to get really but I didn’t really feel the relevance of the beasts. Perhaps the metaphor just went straight over my head and I missed the point completely (if so please let me know!) but I really didn’t understand the whole beast thing, nor did I get why at the end Hushpuppy was able to just stand in front of them without being attacked; as if she looked at them as fellow people or friends.
Ignoring the far fetched plot though Beasts of the Southern Wild is a very beautiful film. It’s enjoyable, Hushpuppy in particular adds an element of naive humour, and it’s a nice slice of fantasy escapism.