A young girl lets her imagination run wild in this moving indie drama
In the remote, rural Louisiana community known as the Bathtub, life hangs in a delicate balance.
“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right,” narrator Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) explains in the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” “If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted.”
Six-year-old Hushpuppy shares a pair of rundown shacks with her impoverished but proud father, Wink (fellow newcomer Dwight Henry), who teaches his daughter to grow up tough and self-reliant. Their isolated bayou outpost, a haphazard pile of rusting lean-tos and decaying docks cut off from “the dry world” by levees, doesn’t seem like much, but to six-year-old Hushpuppy it’s pure heaven.
As Hushpuppy says, “We got the prettiest place on earth.”
Unfortunately, her paradise is in danger of disappearing. As the temperatures rise, the ice caps melt, and Hurricane Katrina hovers on the horizon, Wink falls suddenly ill — sending Hushpuppy in search of her long-lost mother.
A moving exploration of childhood innocence and imagination, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a film of staggering beauty, both inside and out. (Director Behn Zeitlin and his fellow screenwriter, Lucy Alibar, based the film on her one-act play “Juicy and Delicious.”)
Fuzzy fireworks, dancing dust motes and squirming tubs of crayfish fill every frame with a sense of wonder. Even the ugliest images captured by cinematographer Ben Richardson — a dead dog, dying trees, towering trash heaps — have a certain tarnished glory.
The film’s success rests on the slender shoulders of young Quvenzhané Wallis, who produces one of the most naturalistic performances I’ve seen to date. With her effortless narration and beautifully authentic acting, she’s able to make even the most fantastical elements of the story — such as the aurochs, prehistoric creatures summoned back into being by global warming — feel believable.
Dwight Henry, meanwhile, makes the most of the thankless task playing a terse, tough man who seems flummoxed by the very prospect of fatherhood. (Prone to abusive, alcoholic rages, he’s just likely to lob stuffed animals as fists.)
Like the other inhabitants of the Bathtub, including healer Miss Bathsheeba (Gina Montana) and wizened drunk Winston (Joseph Brown), Wink displays a mixture of independence, defiance and plain ol’ pigheadedness — the kind of qualities necessary to survive any storm.
Together, these first-time film actors make “Beasts of the Southern Wild” a film worth watching. This movie is so moving, so monumentally beautiful, in fact, that you’ll never want to look away.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is currently playing at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” image courtesy of MovieWeb.com.
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