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Beasts of the Southern Wild | The Clapper Bored

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Independent films that arrive on the mainstream scene with a lot of Sundance hype face an inevitable backlash. But the reality is that they’ve gotten to that point because they’ve crafted something comparable to the best studio movies, but with far more limited resources and far greater ingenuity. Beasts of the Southern Wild is as good an illustration of this phenomenon as is ever likely to turn up: a brilliant parable about survivial, played out in a mid-apocalyptic wasteland in the Souther USA, that brings together a cast of ferociously talented unknowns and creates something that is, by turns, daring, touching and magical.

At the heart of the film is Quvenzhané Wallis’ towering performance as Hushpuppy. The fact that Wallis happens to be a 6-year-old girl shouldn’t put you off. Her performance is acutely observed, naturalistic and full of nuance that defies her single digit age. Her father, Wink, is played by Dwight Henry and it’s a wonderfully enigmatic part, by turns terrifying and supporting. He’s the most complex character in the film and it is his relationship with Hushpuppy (and vice versa) that forms the basis of the plot (if there is one). Together they fight against a world that is trying to undermine the authority of the place they call home: The Bathtub.

If Beasts of the Southern Wild has a problem, it’s the pacing, that dips after an electric ten-minute prologue. But the film has more than enough depth to make that forgivable and the distinctive mixing of real world destruction (actor Dwight Henry is a real life Katrina survivor) and magic realism (the ‘beasts’ of the title are fuck off massive ancient pigs) creates one of the most striking visual environments in years. The creation of The Bathtub is a revelation, and the film ought to be in contention for all the top production design gongs, come awards season. Not that it needs help there; this little film is going to be vying for all the top prizes, and don’t be surprised if it turns out that little Quvenzhané Wallis gives this year’s strongest, and most endearing, performance.

 Magical and beautifully realized, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an unusual film with a big heart.

Title: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Running Time: 100 mins
Certificate: 12a

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