Beasts of the Southern Wild falls into that much fawned over category of Sundance sweethearts turned summer sleepers. It was a jabbered about favorite at last year's festival, and the underground hype leading up to its slow blossoming release made cliche mountains out of raw, low-budget molehills. Is it magical and divine and sacred and so outside the norm it'll touch you with its juvenile profundity for the rest of your life? Let's go with a tepid 'sort of', 'no', 'uh...definitely not' and 'well, I don't know, maybe?' on all of that and just agree to the very clear, very simple observation that it is indeed unlike anything else you're likely to see this year. While not without its share of problems, Beasts effectively transforms the squalor and wreckage of Hurricane Katrina effected Louisiana (though the film is NOT explicitly about that event) into a fairy tale netherworld and marks a strong debut for director Benh Zeitlin. When Beasts succeeds, it's a patchwork piece of folklore that feels ripped from the enchanted worlds of Hayao Miyazaki. When it falls flat, it succumbs to a lack of cohesion and picks at the illusion of its pint-sized heroine.hpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives with her alcoholic father in the wilds of a place called the Bathtub. Geographically speaking, they're placed on the Isle de Jean Charles out past the levees off the Southern edge of Lousiana, a point Zeitlin claims inspired the story [source], though the rest is fiction. In the telling, the Bathtub sits in constant danger of being wiped out when the water chooses to rise. If the icecaps melt, they go under, and what we see is a land of forest and swamp where the houses are ramshackle trailers and tin sheds built up on legs and ladders as though they housed Baba Yaga. The population is small, they celebrate life constantly, they're surrounded by animals (as meat and as pets), their healers mix up roots in oversized jars, and the world is safe enough for little Hushpuppy to live in her own treehouse trailer across the field from her daddy's (Dwight Henry). The water is a danger, the storms threaten, but the scariest thing in Hushpuppy's life is the mythological arrival of boar-monsters called aurochs and the idea of being left alone. While her home looks like a first world nightmare of poverty, danger, and improper childcare; Hushpuppy navigates it with a assertive logic and convinces us- without fail- that the things we perceive as threats are the things she holds dear. She's a survivor, but an innocent. Her daddy is a bit of a loud-mouthed, meanish brute, but she loves him and he teaches her the skills to keep on living through the toughest of situations
Quvenzhane Wallis is a "revelation", I'll freely admit that she's pretty damn good. Wallis has just the right amount of sparky, wild-child power to compel even the biggest cynic to see things her way. We believe her to be as fearless and capable as Hushpuppy herself, which puts her half way there at the outset. Are there places where she seems too precocious? Where it seems as though she's just repeating a line at a louder, more faux-mad pitch (think the Olsen twins on Full House)? Absolutely. But, I mean, the kid is 6. You can't really ask for anything much better than this.