One of the boldest and most original films to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild picked up both the Grand Jury Prize and the Cinematography Award at the closing night ceremony after surfing a roaring wave of positive buzz. And we doubt it’s going to stop there – this most auspicious of enviro-fantasies is Oscar-bound, and when it lands it’s sure to cause as much wonton destruction as its impressive central storm scene.
A tantalising hybrid of rugged fantasy, character drama and disaster epic, Beasts is a an enchanting oddity that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. At its heart is six-year-old Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives in a Southern delta community called ‘The Bathtub’ (because floods are a daily threat). When her tough love father Wink (Dwight Henry) falls ill, Hushpuppy sets off in search of her mother on a quest to put the world to rights again.
All bristly impudence and pouty bottom lip, Wallis gives a blistering central performance that imbues Beasts with a crude and affecting mood. Raw talent like this is gold dust in the movie industry, and Wallis carries the film with ease, her whimsical narration both quirky and stirring. She’s a fiery heroine, and leads a phenomenal cast of unknowns who are all equally impressive.
After a dreamy introduction, things really get going as a hurricane threatens The Bathtub (Hurricane Katrina is used as both a vague reference point and a thematic device throughout). Meanwhile, melting icecaps unleash giant, long-dormant monsters that charge across the globe towards our little welly-wearing heroine.
Part Where The Wild Things Are, part something else, Beasts is a feral, joyfully atypical fairytale. Debut director Benh Zeitlin – who adapted Lucy Alibar’s play Juicy and Delicious for the screen – creates a richly dilapidated world where you feel every creaking floorboard and every blast of wind.
True, it feels vaguely ostentatious at times, a consequence of its ambitious themes and dreamy language. “The entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right,” glowers Hushpuppy with wisdom beyond her years, just one of her remarkable if unrealistically mature observances.
Beasts, though, is the best kind of fantasy. Rooted in a believable, rough-and-tumble reality, its outlandish flourishes are grounded in stomach-flipping emotion. As told through the eyes of our young heroine, it makes a perfect kind of nonsense that defies explanation. It’s a draining, soaring, staggeringly original bit of storytelling that’s spellbinding from start to finish. 4/5
Via Grolsch Film Works