Movie Review

Dazzling 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' a poetic, powerful film



You've never seen another movie quite like this. 

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is an odd, poetic and singular vision of the chaos and tragedy surrounding a Katrina-like hurricane. It is raw in its depiction of a rarely seen America but stunningly beautiful in its unblemished child-like vision of community, family and home.

Set in a fictional Louisiana bayou called The Bathtub, where movie theaters and shopping centers are mere myths, "Beasts" tells the remarkable story of a tenacious and independent young girl named Hushpuppy and her dying father Wink. Through tough love, Wink gives Hushpuppy harsh life lessons about independence, manhood, bravery and philosophical food for thought about life and the universe.

In Wink's reality, the Bathtub sits on the wrong side of the levee, and when the floods bury the town, the community is abandoned and cut off from the world. The residents of the Bathtub refuse rescue and quixotically adjust to their new, perilous living situation.

For Hushpuppy, the Bathtub is a magical place, a universe unto itself.

Despite the drastic living conditions, the community is exuberant, flowing with life and happiness. Though flooded, the Bathtub holds strong through Cajun food, drink, laughter and storytelling.

Hushpuppy believes ancient creatures called Aurochs, giant hog-like beasts that devour any animal that displays weakness, once ran the world. As the Bathtub ­ and her father -- crumbles before her eyes, Hushpuppy thinks the universe is collapsing and the Aurochs are coming to claim them all. She believes it is only through her indestructible will, lack of tears or fear, as well as the strength to take care of her father and the remaining people of the Bathtub that can only stop the Auroch's onslaught.

The indie film ­ which is adapted from the play "Juicy and Delicious" by Lucy Alibar -- subtly blends magic realism with the sheer tragedy of Katrina and was a smashing success at the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the prestigious Grand Jury Prize.

Sewn throughout the film is Hushpuppy's exhilarating narration. The combination of Wallis' raspy, yet innocent voice and the poetic writing adds much depth and beauty to the contrasted dying landscape. Her narration may as well come from within an ancient soul with moments like, "The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. When one piece busts ­ even the smallest piece ­ the entire universe will get busted."

Director Benh Zeitlin cast the film with non-actors. Dwight Henry (Wink) is a local Louisiana baker and Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy) was a five year-old elementary school student. Henry gives a raw performance as the reckless Wink; at one moment his eyes show all the love and emotion he has for Hushpuppy and for his land, then the next possessed by liquor and a rage against the universe.

Wallis alone is a force of nature. Zeitlin commented on his casting the young girl: "Her resonance in the quiet moments was unparalleled to anyone else ­ no one had come close to that. The look in her eyes and the intensity and amount of feeling you could see going on inside was so powerful. She had this huge will of her own that I couldn't control."

It is without question that Wallis and Henry -- with no prior history of acting between the pair -- deserve Oscars.

"Beasts" casts aside color, politics and religion and cuts straight to the heart of our communal existence as Hushpuppy simply states, "I see that I'm a little piece of a big universe, and that makes things right."

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" may easily slip your radar, but don't let it.

It's a unique, uplifting cinematic experience.