Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, and Levy Easterly
Rating: 3.9/5.0 (with a 4.8 for the acting)
"Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love."
I didn't think she could do it, but a six-year-old girl just made me cry like a baby. Quvenzhané Wallis has a good career ahead of her.

This film is equally beautiful and devastating. It matches a harsh reality with a colorful imagination. The setting is gorgeous and unknown to many, which is what drew me to the film in the first place.

The first five minutes of this movie were glorious. I was certain I was going to love it. Then it got a bit dark. Then it got a bit confusing. Then scary. Then flat out strange. And by the ending I found myself wanting more.

This is director Behn Zeitlin's first feature length film, so serious props to him. The camera is very intimate, using exaggerated angles and close-up shots to create a feeling of being in Hushpuppy's (Quevenzhané Wallis) head. The sets are fantastic, reminding me of Winter's Bone (just a bit warmer).

There's some really great performances here, but the winner has got to be little Quevenzhané Wallis. She stole every scene like a pro. She played a motherless, vulnerable, and brave girl whose father's parenting left something to be desired. There was nothing rehearsed about her performance. She's funny, determined, and angry. Of course, Zeitlin's fantastic camera work helped bring all these emotions out, creating just the right amount of hectic. Think Hunger Games, just a lot better put together.

But the plot is where I started to get lost. It begins with Hushpuppy explaining:
"The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece... the entire universe will get busted."
Well, that one piece gets busted. And the poor girl thinks she's the reason. I don't want to give up too much of the plot (even though it probably wouldn't spoil it anyway) so I won't go too much farther, but I will say that it felt like the got halfway through with the script and then just decided to end it. Throughout this film there was a growing sense of suspense because of some unnamed thing. But then it just resolved itself without any trouble, and it just left me wanting far more.

You have to look at the film from another angle, because Zeitlin refuses to help you. This film is many things. It's a story of survival, of inequality, of loss. It's about coming of age, yet growing up too fast. It's about community, nature, and the dangers of climate change. It's eye-opening, and terrifying. But above all, it's metaphorical. The beasts are the destruction of the life that Hushpuppy knows. They are her fear and she conquers it. She's six, so this is the best way for her to understand it and explain it.

I like it, and I'll be watching it again. Maybe it will grow on me (Winter's Bone did). I'd recommend renting it when it comes out on DVD. It's worth the watch.

[Source: IMDB]

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