Film review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

16:00, Nov 30 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Great storytelling: Dwight Henry, left, and Quvenzhane Wallis, right, in Beasts of the Southern Wild – a wild, joyous celebration of what cinema can achieve.


Directed by Benh Zeitlin Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly.

A few miles outside an unnamed city, not a million kilometres away from New Orleans, there is an area the locals call Bathtub.

To one side is the ocean, to the other are the swamps, and the levy wall that protects the city. It is a village of true - and often drunken - individuals. The golden child in their midst is a fearless six-year-old by the name of Hushpuppy. She lives in a one-room shack atop a high set of stilts. Wink, her father, has a similar setup. When that night's meal is cooked, Dad pulls on a rope that rings a bell.

Days pass learning how to catch a fish barehanded from a raft. We know that Wink is ill, because we recognise that he appears at home in a hospital gown. But to Hushpuppy, Wink is just being even more distant and morose than usual, and she is at that age when children need to find a place in the world that is somewhere other than in their parents' shadow. Outside, a storm is brewing fast.

What happens to Wink and Hushpuppy during that storm, and during the days after, is the guts of this wonderful film. But to describe Beasts of the Southern Wild as a drama of survival would be a misrepresentation. Shot, mostly, from the point of view of Hushpuppy, this film does a better job than any I know of capturing the magic of a child's imagination.


Hushpuppy knows, because her teacher told her, that the seas will rise, and that strange beasts in the Arctic ice will be released. Just as she knows that her mother was so beautiful that water boiled when she walked past, and that her daddy will never die.

Directed by first-timer Benh Zeitlin, in partnership with a collective of young film-makers who call themselves Court 13, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an hallucinatory romp of a film.

It is blessed by a great storytelling prowess and a wild, joyous celebration of what cinema can achieve.

This is a noisy, rambunctious, howl of a film, shot through with music, laughter, pathos, and some of the most gloriously unexpected and inventive visuals I've seen in years. Imagine Fellini with a handycam, shooting fairytales in the aftermath of Katrina, and you might think you have some idea of what to expect. But you don't.

Just go and see Beasts of the Southern Wild. It may well be my favourite film of 2012.

The Dominion Post