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Beasts of the Southern Wild (5 stars)

A bracingly original and utterly beguiling magical/social-realist fable

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin's extraordinary debut offers a heady mix of social realism and magic realism as it charts survival at the extreme margins of society. Based on a play called Juicy And Delicious, it unfolds in the Louisiana backwater of The Bathtub where six year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her ailing father Wink (Dwight Henry) cling to a precarious existence in a makeshift wooden shack high above the ground. The father and daughter seem largely untouched by modernity or the wider world and when a storm hits there is the ferocity of Victor Seastrom's silent classic The Wind (1928) in its depiction of lives at the mercy of the elements.

Beasts is impressionistic and highly idiosyncratic; a visionary jumble of images and emotions with dialogue that is often hard to grasp. There are echoes of Terrence Malick in its view of rural America and a clear affinity with Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are as we enter Hushpuppy's vision of a world and its terrors. There are flashbacks to moments with her missing mother and scenes with rampaging creatures-prehistoric giant warthogs who roam the land.

Initial impressions of the relationship between father and daughter suggest a brutal, callous parent but eventually we come to recognise that Wink cares deeply for the girl and is merely trying to strengthen her ability to handle the uncertainties of what lies ahead. The staunch avoidance of sentimentality makes the father /daughter dynamic all the more tender.

Henry and Wallis are both non-professional actors but inhabit their roles with astonishing ease and conviction. Wallis especially invests the wide-eyed Hushpuppy with a defiance and stoicism that melt the heart. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is bracingly original and utterly beguiling.

Selected release from Fri 19 Oct.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • 5 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 91 min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
  • Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly
  • UK release: 19 October 2012

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her ailing father (Henry) live in the Louisiana backwaters until a violent storm throws their lives into turmoil. Henry and Wallis are non-professional actors who inhabit their roles with astonishing ease and conviction, and the film is bracingly original and beguiling.

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Trailer

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