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STUDIO: Fox Searchlight
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
• Making of
• “Glory at Sea” short film
• Deleted Scenes
An ambitious bayou fable about a young girl and her father taking on sickness, Aurochs, and the beasts within themselves.
Co-written and directed by Benh Zeitlin, co-written by Lucy Alibar (based on her play), starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, and Levy Easterly.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a remarkable first feature film from Benh Zeitlin. It polarized the hell out of critics last year but love it or hate, there’s no denying the immense DIY spirit behind the film. I personally love the shit out of it.
Even if Benh Zeitlin’s debut film Beasts of the Southern Wild didn’t make a critical splash or garner a handful of Oscar nominations, you’d have to admire the dude’s ambition. Nowadays we see a lot of indie debuts that beat found footage of mumblecore to death, not ones that build a believable world beyond its meager budget. Zeitlin went big with the resources he had and the result is a flood of moving cinema that oughta shutup anyone bitching about the lack of creativity and vision in American films. And it stars a five-year-old rookie for chrissakes.
Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a pint-sized girl living with her father in an impoverished Delta community called the Bathtub. The citizens of Bathtub don’t let the crushing poverty on their side of the levees stop the party. Inside and outside their junk houses there’s always drinking and dancing going on. Even in the face of an impending storm that’s bound to drown the community (again), the citizens of the Bathtub rage. Some of them choose to leave before the storm, but most of them stay.
Hushpuppy’s dad is named Wink (Dwight Henry, another non-actor) and he’s kind of a drunk asshole. They live in separate houses, but Hushpuppy comes over for chicken dinners. Her mother either left them or died. All Hushpuppy has left of her is a basketball jersey that she talks to and makes cat food dinner for. So her and her father have a frail relationship. He screams at her a lot and disappears for days. She says she hopes he dies so she can eat birthday cake on his grave (what an upbeat insult!). She also casually mentions that she thinks he might kill her someday.
More than storms, mythical creatures, and defiant communities, Beasts is about Hushpuppy and Wink’s relationship and their shared loss. They’re terrified of losing each other. Wink can’t bear to think of someone else raising her. In one scene, another Bathtub resident is showing Hushpuppy how to surgically break open a crab and eat it. Wink erupts and shows her his way of eating crab, which is similar to how a wild animal would. “Beast it!” he tells her. But it’s this beast within himself that’s preventing Wink from being the father Hushpuppy needs.
I can’t fathom how lucky Zeitlin and crew must’ve felt when they found Quvenzhané Wallis. She’s one of the most natural actors I’ve ever seen in my life and the film’s heart and soul. Hushpuppy wanders the Bathtub alone a lot, figuring out the ligaments of the world around her and discovering the relationship between everything big and small. During her more formal education, she learns of the Aurochs – giant prehistoric beasts thawing in the Arctic. Hushpuppy will courageously confront these metaphorical beasts, just as she does the beast within her father.
Her journey, along with the triumphs and tragedies alongside Wink and the other denizens of the Bathtub, are captured with dense beauty. The poverty of the Bathtub is steeped in realism thanks in huge part to the remarkable production design. Even when the massive Aurochs make their way into town, this fantasy element never takes away from the authenticity of Zeitlin’s vision. Beasts is an exhilarating, honest film about fear, family, and empowerment that feels like a breath of fresh air for American cinema. And you goddamn right I’ll be rooting for it on Oscar night.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film was shot in 16mm, so the high definition doesn’t look as sharp as most contemporary films shot digitally. But the larger 16mm grain gives the film an appropriately soft look. The 5.1 surround is highly immersive – birds, wind, and rain sound just as impressive as explosions and an Auroch stampede.
MAKING OF: This 22 minute featurette makes up for the lack of commentary. The amount of DIY spirit that went into every aspect of this film is downright moving. The crew built everything and some even slept in the homes built for the film. The effects crew even raised the Vietnamese pigs that were used as Aurochs! The casting, special effects, and lots of other elements are also looked at.
MUSIC: This brief featurette looks at the composing process.
AUROCHS: A short look at the effects crew’s work with the Aurochs. This is covered in the Making Of. Damn those pigs are cute.
AUDITIONS: 15 minutes of Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis audition footage.
“GLORY AT SEA”: Benh Zeitlin’s 2008 short film that acts as sort of a companion piece to Beasts.
DELETED SCENES: Nothing very juicy here, but with optional commentary.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars