Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

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Seen from the viewpoint of Hushpuppy, an adorably named 6-year-old living in the backwoods of the south in a town called The Bathtub, Beasts of the Southern Wild often feels like a fairytale, a look at the ways that a child copes with challenges she may not easily understand. Towards the beginning of the film, Katrina-like events strike The Bathtub. While most of the residents flee before the storm hits, a few have stayed behind, including Hushpuppy and her father, whose health we learn is failing. Despite his bouts of anger and frustration, it becomes clear that Hushpuppy's father is trying to teach her how to be strong and take care of herself.

Much of the film maintains its fantastical tone, even introducing a pack of long extinct creatures awakened from their tombs made of now globally warmed ice and making their destructive way towards The Bathtub. However, when the remaining residents are forced to evacuate the pile of detritus that was once their home and find themselves at a crowded shelter, the film becomes morosely realistic as Hushpuppy finds herself no longer shielded by the life she has always been used to. The score and production design of Beasts of the Southern Wild do a particularly fine job of complementing these shifts within the film. Watching Hushpuppy defiantly claim her strength and independence with one of cinema's greatest screams is glorious.


Beasts of the Southern Wild is an aptly named film about beasts of the Southern Wild, where in this case "beasts" describes both large, toothy bison, and a small, toothy young girl named Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy and her father live in a small Bayou community called "The Bathtub", and upon punching her dad in the chest and surviving a Katrina-like catastrophic event, Hushpuppy comes of age and learns to face her fears and stuff. It's the kind of indie film that the Oscars seems intent on nominating these days to give itself some street cred, and I don't think there could have been a better movie that the Academy could have chosen to bestow all of these nominations on. I suspect Beasts will soon be forgotten, much like Precious, which assumed a similar role a few years ago, and despite winning a handful of awards, will always be remembered as the movie where the overweight girl runs down the street eating fried chicken skins and then barfing in a trash bin at her school. Beasts is a little better than this.

Much has been made of Quvenzhané Wallis in her performance as Hushpuppy, and rightfully so. She holds the distinction of being the youngest person ever nominated in the Best Actress category, thereby taking the title from Anna Paquin (thank God). As legend has it, to secure the roles in BOTSW, Wallis had to lie about her age in order to beat out 4,000 other Hushpuppy hopefuls. In interviews, Wallis claims that her favorite parts of filming were whenever she was asked to burp or scream on camera, and as she spends a lot of the film running around screaming about this thing or that, it's safe to say that she's pretty much a natural. An hour and a half of watching a 5 year old running around engaging in these kinds of behaviors could have been quite a chore, but Quvenzhané manages to do both without being cloying, so kudos to her.

I liked Beasts of the Southern Wild quite a bit, but upon sitting down to write this review, I find that, as I proposed earlier, it's rather forgettable. Most of the scenes that flash in my mind when I think about it are scenes that appeared in the trailer, so that's not really saying much. As opposed to telling an involved story, Beasts instead takes comfort in creating an environment for its characters to run around (and scream and belch) in, and then sits back and kind of lets its small story tell itself. This isn't an indictment, so much as just an observation. My favorite parts of the film occurred when all of its parts convened together to create quick snapshots of the beauty and magic of a new and undiscovered world. The music is absolutely incredible, and carries the movie well, making us cry or laugh appropriately while never becoming too manipulative. Quvenzhané Wallis was indeed born to play her part, but when all is said and done, I wonder... what will she do with next 61 years of her life?


Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fascinating examination of rural poverty, tradition, and survival in the low elevation lands of implied southern Louisiana. This film shows us truths about humanity, environmental destruction, and modern human survival without getting preachy. These themes are shown through the use of southern rural storytelling and mythmaking traditions, all of which is heightened to a grand and magical scale through the eyes of a young girl named Hushpuppy.

Quvenzhané Wallis is unbelievably good as Hushpuppy and delivers an unwavering performance that, unlike most child performances, is never awkward to watch. Dwight Henry as Hushpuppy's father is also remarkable. This is a character that is extremely well developed from a rough, seemingly negligent, self-destructive father into a man who has good intentions for his daughter and becomes an unlikely almost noble mentor.

The score, cinematography, and visual effects are unconventional yet brilliant here. Presenting us with probably the best score of the year, director Benh Zeitlin coproduces music that uses simplistic instruments and Cajun influences to both build powerful emotion and to firmly establish setting. The visual effects are also simplistic yet extremely effective and do not rely on computer animation to produce distinct, epic, and magical imagery.