Beasts of the Southern Wild
Living on the wrong side of the tracks is usually not considered good, but living on the wrong side of the levee can be downright deadly for the residents who call the low lying land home. Beasts of the Southern Wild mixes the harsh realities of their life in the Louisiana bayou region known as the Bathtub with mythical prehistoric creatures called aurochs.
It is difficult at times to get a grip on this fantasy drama based on the one-act play Juicy and Delicious. Cut off from the rest of the area by the large embankment, these tough and hard-drinking residents face certain flooding when the rains hit. But in school, the teacher also tells her students that melting ice caps will release huge, mean-spirited beasts called aurochs. These hairy, horned, boor-like creatures attack and eat the undefended and vulnerable.
Despite her bravado, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a strong-willed 6-year-old, feels a little vulnerable. Living alone in a trashy old trailer, she visits her father’s nearby trailer only when invited in for “feed up” time. Her mother has long since run off leaving Wink (Dwight Henry) to care for his daughter alone. Their living arrangements may seem cruel, but in Wink’s mind it is preparation for when he will no longer be there to provide for his daughter.
As a storm approaches many residents of the Bathtub leave, but Wink and Hushpuppy hunker down in their makeshift boat to ride out the deluge. The next morning they steer through the flood waters looking for any other survivors. They find Walrus and Little Jo (Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper) passed out from liquor in their dilapidated dwelling. However, all the alcohol in the world won’t make the water go away or restore this community. And as his health fails and the reality of his impending death sets in, Wink has to find a way to prepare his daughter to live in the world without him and to give her courage to face her fears.
This adapted screenplay’s success at Sundance and Cannes may be surprising considering this is the first film role for both Dwight Henry (a New Orleans’ bakery owner who was talked into auditioning) and Quvenzhané Wallis (who lied about her age in order to try out for the part). However both bring a freshness and passion to the story.
Unfortunately in spite of the young actress in a lead role, this film won’t be suitable for young viewers. Hushpuppy’s life as the lone occupant of her trailer comes to a sudden end after she makes her own dinner, starting the gas stove with a blowtorch. (She does don a helmet before turning on the torch.) Other scenes of a child in peril, abuse and desertion are also portrayed along with uninhibited alcohol use (including a child drinking), frequent profanities and prostitutes.
While this unusual mix of fantasy and drama may appeal to some, others may find it a challenge to connect with this lost child and her dying father.