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Rated PG-13 for language, thematic elements, frightening sequences, violence and some sensuality
posted Sep 21, 2012 - 10:47:39am
Somewhere between fantastical magic realism and stark voyeurism lies first-time director Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, an unflinching look at life in isolation and abject poverty in the Louisiana bayou. It has all the charm you’d expect from a critically acclaimed indie film about a cute 6-year-old on an adventure, but virtually none of the innocence.
In a ramshackle makeshift commune colloquially called the Bathtub, somewhere on the other side of Louisiana’s levees, a tiny community lives almost entirely isolated from civilization. The story is told through the perspective of 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who is forced to fend for herself while her short-tempered, neglectful father, Wink (Dwight Henry), spends his days in a drunken haze.
Beasts’ plot is only a loosely constructed series of events whose theme seems to add up to “change is inevitable, but you don’t have to like it.” When a storm floods the Bathtub, many of its residents flee, but a few linger, trying – if in vain – to hold on to their culture.
For Hushpuppy, it’s all she has ever known. Wallis plays the part with charm, performs her many voice-overs with maturity, and shows the lack of self-consciousness only a child could. Her mother ran off years ago, and Hushpuppy was raised by her neglectful father and superstitious teacher, who taught children just enough to terrify them and nothing more. Hushpuppy lives in constant fear of house-sized prehistoric beasts called aurochs said to have feasted in the past on Louisiana children; she worries constantly about rising waters; she believes she shares a heartbeat with the rest of the universe and finds herself fascinated intimately by every living being.
Popcorn represents how fun a film is to watch—how funny it is, how exciting the special effects are, and how enjoyable the story is on repeated viewings. The perfect popcorn movie would be one that never got stale regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.
While Hushpuppy spends much of the film fearing her father’s anger, or finding diversion in connecting with the land, she dreams of escape – though she doesn’t realize it – perhaps to find her mother, perhaps something greater. Still, during the few awkwardly tender moments she shares with her father, we see why the little girl never wants to leave: He is her hero, flawed though he may be.
Still, it all comes together with the help of some amazing acting, obscenely detailed sets and a truly great soundtrack by Zeitlin and Dan Romer.
Don’t watch Beasts of the Southern Wild expecting a happy story. Entering the theater in that mindset would be a mistake: This is not a tragedy, but there’s very little happiness to be found, and what few precious moments there are come with an asterisk indicating that, when the levee breaks, it’ll all come unraveled.
Stars & Popcorn grade: 4 1/2 stars, 2 popcorn.
— Hunter serves as editor-in-chief for movie-review website Stars and Popcorn. To learn more about Stars and Popcorn, visit www.starsandpopcorn.com. Send e-mail to Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sponsored by Liebe Entertainment Group, Marketplace 8. Click here to see showtimes for Beasts of the Southern Wild
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