Film Review: Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those films that carries the weight of a hefty reputation. From the record breaking Academy Award nomination for it’s 9 year old lead – Quvenzhané Wallis – to its extensive and long list film festival awards and nominations, people just seemed to be falling over themselves to proclaim this film to be a thing of beauty.

And yet, I’ve never really been sure about it. I’ve never quite managed to get my head around exactly what it is. Was it a serious movie, was it a fantasia of dreams, was it the mindless scribblings of a nine year old girl? I was always strangely attracted to it, but could never justify giving up the time to watch it. I knew of it’s history, of it’s acclaim, but it’s trailer never warmed me to it. Never demanded to be watched.

Benh Zeitlin - Beasts Of The Southern Wild

But then, you have a birthday, relatives risk buying you films, and into your life it drops. The result, I had no excuse not to watch it. And so, on a truly wet, and thus fittingly appropriate evening, it was time to let director Benh Zeitlin show me what all the fuss is about. Sadly though, he didn’t. This film is just strange. The astrophysics science in Interstellar makes more sense than this. Really what the heck is going on?

As it started I didn’t know quite what I had let myself in for. I was being thrust into a story, narrated by a small girl, who at times, mainly as a result of the squalid, ramshackle world in which she lives, could easily have been mistaken for a boy, recounting tales of how prehistoric pigs appear to roam the earth, medicine still involves the use of a witches cauldron and hunting food involves sticking your hand in a river until a fish swims into it. Oh, but that’s until she decides to cook dinner with a blow torch. After all, you need some modern comforts.

Prehistoric Pigs - Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Really, this film felt like the portrait of a cave painting brought to life. There really does seem to be a essence that it is just the mad interpretations of a few basic scribbles. And I found this being reinforced, unhelpfully, by the cinematic shooting style and complete apparent lack of a soundtrack. It has the flavour of a documentary. Everything is designed to feel real, and gritty, and circadian. But it fails to work. I just ended up questioning whether these people really did exist, whether the situation they are in could actually happen, and why a 9 year old seems to hold the matriarchal power she does over a tribal community full of a lot of older, wiser, people?

Thankfully, Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t a long film. It’s your old fashioned “90 minutes and out” affair and that was a good thing, because it never managed to draw me in. Instead, I just sat there watching it, confusingly trying to piece the fragments together into a story that made any sense and failing miserably. I wasn’t glad when it was over, but I wasn’t upset it had finished. And I can’t even go as far as to say, it was just a way to waste an evening. It’s a film, that like it’s plot, seems to serve no purpose and fit no box.

Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts Of The Southern Wild

However, I must admit, that for all the failings I drew from it, I can see why Quvenzhané Wallis, playing the lead character Hush Puppy, got her Oscar nod, like Timothy Spall in Mr Turner, her performance demands respect, but that’s it, nothing more. And I can see why it as a film it won so many awards. It’s the typical “above it’s budget” film in what it manages to achieve visually. It truly is a “critics” film. It will never be mainstream entertainment and I think that’s why it missed so badly, any level of enjoyment in terms of the journey it uses to take you through what idea of a plot it has.

The script apparently, won the “Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation” from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and I think that sums everything up. Because Beasts of the Southern Wild is way and truly beyond just a simple work of fiction!

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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