Tempers flare, ice caps melt, but is it more than ‘gator flashing in the pan? One of the most divisive films of the year, Beasts of the Southern Wild, creates a hero’s odyssey for a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy. Portrayed by an amazing-find local actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, Hushpuppy lives alone next to her single-dad, Wink. Her mother is nothing more than an imaginary friend in a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey or a blinking light in the horizon. When a giant storm hits their levee-leveled Louisiana community, a glacier sends prehistoric beasts their way, the residents are forcibly relocated, the levees must be destroyed and Hushpuppy must find a cure for her ailing father before the beasts come or he before Wink dies.
Sound a little confusing and convoluted? It is. Sound daring and original? It is that too. The film, championed through development via various film festivals and a huge grant by nonprofit Cinereach, is a labor of love by a group of filmmakers calling themselves Court 13. Based on a one-act play, Juicy and Delicious, the film is really a love letter to Louisiana and the free-wheeling, free-living and free-loving spirit of that community. The film’s visuals and performances are the strongest points, with non-actors playing most parts and the film being shot by artists on grainy, saturated 16mm film. The narrative is where the film suffers, feeling fairly cobbled, crude and confusing. As an experimental film, it works. As an emotional narrative, it’s a bit harder to really connect with the story, as it bounces and bobs like a buoy blasted by the storm. A visually-stunning, non-traditional film can still connect with a narrative a little more easily, as shown in this year’s Life of Pi, by Ang Lee. But Beasts of the Southern Wild is still most definitely worth watching. It shows a people, place, population and culture rarely featured in a feature film. And it has one of the most commanding young actresses in film staring down the beasts of the wild and a beast of a film.