A cast of local non-actors fills Beasts with authentic grit. Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, Beasts is now playing in theaters.
Girl meets world
Hushpuppy (astounding Quvenzhané Wallis) is a six-year-old living in southern Louisiana. As a Hurricane Katrina-like storm approaches, she and her daddy Wink (Dwight Henry, violent and valiant) hunker down in their shanty. Defiant residents of “the Bathtub” hold fast in the tidal basin.
Wink is succumbing to disease and heavy drinking. But Hushpuppy, who narrates movingly in broken English, holds her head high. She knows her small but important place in the Universe. She loves herself and is proud of her heritage.
Hushpuppy evokes memories of her absent mother. The glow of a distant lighthouse signifies her momma’s love. The girl is also an animal whisperer whose empathy with all creatures dispels loneliness.
References to melting polar ice caps and ancient beasts lend historic and modern context. After the flood, Wink teaches his daughter to catch catfish with her bare hands. Love and loyalty hold their community together. The heroes live on crawfish, shrimp, crabs and sometimes alcohol. They mock authority from the edge of civilization.
Wink’s tough love has forged Hushpuppy’s fierce individualism. That’s deepened by her sense of wonder. Wallis’ dignity and tenacity remind me of Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone.
Allegory of survival
Ben Richardson’s cinematography conjures dreamlike realism. Motherless children float in makeshift boats over stark, dying waterscapes. A bustling, sweaty brothel becomes a temporary haven. Hushpuppy faces giant, wild boars in a surreal moment right out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Finally, Beasts raises the region and its inhabitants to mythic status.
If you like Beasts of the Southern Wild, you might enjoy: Winter’s Bone.
Beasts of the Southern Wild / 2012 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 33 min
Cast Overview: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Genres: Drama, Fantasy