Film review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Sean Brady, Contributor Ω

“The brave men stay and watch it happen. They don’t run.”

What is it that makes people who live in disaster areas come back to rebuild, time after time? Beasts of the Southern Wild gets close to answering that question and provides a harrowing father-daughter tale of survival along the way.

The film tells the story of six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry), who live in The Bathtub, a fictional bayou community on an island separated from the mainland by the ocean and a massive levee. Hushpuppy and Wink struggle to keep their relationship stable and fight often, leaving them at odds but ultimately co-dependent. When her father’s health begins to fail, Hushpuppy begins to search for her mother.

Beasts is a thinking movie, and it’s one that conjures up images of post-Katrina New Orleans. Battered by storms, flooded and increasingly isolated, The Bathtub is portrayed as a place where the struggle to simply stay home is sometimes overwhelming.

Father and daughter share the screen with strong characters and environments rich in both culture and poverty. When a storm approaches, some choose to leave, but Wink’s resilience keeps him dug in at home with his daughter, prepared to fight off the storm with a bottle of booze and a shotgun.

Throughout the film, Hushpuppy provides poetic and even existential narration fuelled by the wisdom of her father and the longing for her mother, filtered through the child’s curious mind.

Wallis portrays a very strong character, and although her spoken dialogue in the film is reluctant at times, her narration is confident and wondrous binding every scene of the film together. Her ferocity and bravery are always apparent.

Typically in a movie about impoverished people, it’s assumed that the ultimate goal is some kind of upward mobility, but the residents of The Bathtub want only to survive there and passionately resist all attempts to be relocated.

However, the film is not without its issues. The mysterious Aurochs, portrayed as long-lost mythical creatures who used to eat cavemen, serve as a kind of metaphor, but their link to Hushpuppy and her situation is not apparent enough. The shaky camera style is also initially jarring, though it becomes much harder to notice as the film progresses.

Beasts of the Southern Wild might help you understand why someone would continue to return to a place of chaos and turmoil simply because it’s home. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll leave you satisfied with an emotional tale of survival in a world blooming with culture.