Beasts of the Sothern Wild is a beautiful film currently in limited release after winning the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It follows a young girl named Hushpuppy (played by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives in an area of Louisiana called the bathtub. Ravaged by flooding, the inhabitants of the bathtub have pieced together what was left behind and started a new community, isolated from the rest of the world and intent to keep it that way. Hushpuppy lives with her father Wink, who prepares for the end of the world and teaches his daughter how to survive one day without him. The film is one of those rare examples of every element being extraordinary. The acting, the directing, the script, the music is all superb and blend together to create the magical world of the bathtub.
At first you’re unsure about this community called the bathtub. Are they survivors of an end of civilization type flood or are they a bunch of crackpots feeding each other’s paranoia? The whole community balances on the belief that when the ice caps melt the world will be flooded but they will survive because they are prepared. The viewer plays an interesting game of guessing “What’s real?”
Wallis is a wonder as Hushpuppy. She has the right amount of sweetness and rage to make this pretty much feral child endearing and fascinating. She is the perfect mouthpiece for the script’s insightful observations on the world. Like most of the cast, Wallis is from Louisiana and the casting reminds one of Italian neo-realism. There’s not a name among the cast, and we will probably not see most of these actors again, but it gives the film a purity that allows you to buy into this strange world. The dynamic between Hushpuppy and her father is very interesting to watch. While Wink is a drunk who hits Hushpuppy when she displeases him, you can also feel his love for her and know that his main concern is keeping her safe. This is not to excuse his violent tendencies as simply a result of him being in over his head, but it’s a complexity most films are afraid to include. You’re left not knowing exactly what you think of this guy.
The film looks and sounds amazing. Everything is so beautifully shot, with a crispness and a warmth. The score truly elevates the film. It is used sparingly and is never manipulative. What I loved most about it is that it felt like music that would the people of the bathtub would create themselves. This gives this world an added legitimacy.
This may be one of those movies that everyone raves about but gets overlooked come Oscar season because it doesn’t have a big enough name attached to it or pandered to the Academy enough, but it could easily be nominated for at leave four or five awards. If this one is playing in your area, please check it out, and if not, keep an eye out for when it’s released on DVD.