Beasts of the Southern Wilds
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Screenplay: Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar
Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry
Runtime: 91 min.
John DeSando, WCBE’s “It’s Movie Time” and “Cinema Classics”
“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece... the whole universe will get busted.” Hushpuppy
If this weren’t such a powerful evocation of flood devastation in the Delta, I’d have awarded it a B because of the annoying overuse of the hand-held camera. Enough already. With much less determination to create immediacy and tension and a more stable camera, I wouldn’t have felt nauseous, and I would have enjoyed more the rich characterization of six-year old Hushpuppy (Quvenhane Wallis) and her overpowering father, Wink (Dwight Henry).
As if their poverty among the detritus of Southern trash weren’t enough, the strains of extreme poverty reduce everything to fetid death and pure survival. Including Wink, who is dying, adding to the already depressingly poor world. Only Hushpuppy seems capable of saving them with her fierce determination to find her mother, who abandoned her, and disallow the death of her father.
So much of this Sundance selection is impressionistic, just as Winter’s Bone is in it rural Kentucky chaos exemplified by its lawn trash. In Beasts, the Delta seems to carry all the discarded junk of civilization, and Wink and Hushpuppy do their best to use every bit they can—exceptional recyclers.
Scenes upon scenes visually carry the choking remains of civilization, a tribute to neophyte director/writer Benh Zeitlin. In fact the principal actors are also new to this film game, and I suspect several of the character actors who give the film its Delta look.
In a bold narrative, Zeitlin also includes some magic realism, notably the emergence of pre-historic aurochs, whose awkward placement in the film at times annoys, yet at others is just the right call to faith in ancient verities and primitive survival instincts, evidenced in the animals’ resemblance to giant wild hogs.
Their recognition of her as a survivor and leader is a smart way to transcend seemingly tyrannical misery.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on demand at WCBE.org.
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel.
Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com