Six year old Hushpuppy lives in a Louisiana bayou named the Bathtub, in a ramshackle community uninterested in the ways of capitalist society. Her mother is long gone and her father Wink is a drunk. While he clearly loves his daughter, his issues prevent him from taking care of her properly and Hushpuppy must learn to look out for herself. The young girl perceives the world as being a web of interconnected pieces, which must all fit together perfectly in order to function. When a storm submerges her home in water, everything Hushpuppy holds dear is threatened.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – director Benh Zeitlin’s first full-length feature – is a beautiful and mythical portrayal of a hurricane ravaged Louisiana. The Bathtub’s occupants live a carefree existence which outsiders might consider to be a world of poverty, but its inhabitants wouldn’t change a thing for the world. This feeling of community and a refusal of nonconformity give the film a real emotional depth that is intensified by its outstanding central performances.
That we see life through Hushpuppy’s eyes gives an impression of magic realism: this is a child’s perspective therefore distortions of reality are likely. The enchanting plot conventions are enhanced by colourful, glittering lighting; that coupled with the wetlands backdrop give a Southern gothic feel. Zeitlin’s accompanying soundtrack perfectly channels the themes and emotions presented in the film.
Quvenzhane Wallis is fearless as the fiery Hushpuppy, who manages to convey strength beyond her years whilst retaining a child-like sense of wonder. Dwight Henry is also brilliant as her father, and even the most cynical of viewers will not fail to be moved by their relationship. Beasts of the Southern Wild is refreshing and original, one of the best films of 2012.