Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Cast Members: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Runtime: 93 min
Sometimes, an exorbitant budget and lavish special effects are not necessary to effectively convey a story on the screen. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a low budget movie shot on location that deals with the after effects of a devastating hurricane. This film offers a peak into a world many viewers may not even be aware exists, all through the eyes of a strong and independent six-year-old girl.
Young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her dying father (Dwight Henry) in a desperately impoverished Southern Delta community cut off from the rest of the World. After a violent storm floods the area, Hushpuppy must deal with new hardships and learn the ways of survival. Along the way she shares her philosophical ideas about the Universe with all those around her.
Beasts of the Southern Wild would make for quite a bleak film if not for its electric protagonist. Since this film is focalized through the character of Hushpuppy, the viewer is able to view the world in which she lives through her young eyes. For example, when a flashback of Hushpuppy’s parents together is presented, the camera is careful to avoid revealing her mother’s face since Hushpuppy cannot remember it. Similarly, mention of the environmental disaster that occurs is accompanied by reoccurring shots of the ancient monsters that Hushpuppy associates with trouble. The uniqueness of this perspective provides interest for a viewer that may not be familiar with ‘art house’ film such as myself. Although I found the movie to be a thought-provoking depiction of an unfamiliar way of life, I found it to be more of a curiosity than an enjoyable viewing experience, and am still not entirely sure what to make of it.
One of the most talked about nominations this year undoubtedly went to then-six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis for Actress in a Leading Role. Critics are divided as to whether or not child actors should be eligible for Oscar nomination. Personally, I do not believe that there should be any differentiation between child and adult actors; all should be judged equally according to the same criteria. Nevertheless, child actor nominations are a novelty, the last winner being Anna Paquin in 1994 for her role in The Piano. Wallis’ character Hushpuppy certainly is an intense force of energy; however, I am not sure if her performance contains the subtleties and nuances that can be found in those of some of her competitors. I was surprised that the film did not receive a nomination for Best Music, as the notable score was one of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed the most. The film did receive nominations in both the Best Picture and Director categories, but a win is highly unlikely against heavy weights such as Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a unique film that focuses on characterization and whimsy instead of expensive effects or sets. Capturing the worldview and energy of an engaging young girl faced with unimaginable challenges deserves recognition, however, this film requires patience and is certainly not for everyone.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival