I tried not to read too much about the Fox/Searchlight film Beasts of the Southern Wild, but was very intrigued by the trailer before I attended the screening. I walked out amazed by the performances of the film leads, Quvenzhané Wallis who portrays a six year old, Hushpuppy, and Dwight Henry who is her father in the film, known as Wink. What makes it even more amazing is that these two film leads are first time actors. More than likely, most viewers will not believe they have not acted before.
The 65-member film crew included two residents of south Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where most of the filming took place, aside from New Orleans. More than half of the cast hails from Louisiana bayou country, including Wallis and five others in speaking roles.
The film is based on a one-act play, Juicy and Delicious, by playwright and actress Lucy Alibar who co-wrote the script with friend and director Benh Zeitlin. Alibar has a cameo appearance in the movie. The transformation from play to script is very creative and engaging during the entire length of the film, leaving the viewer breathless in a few scenes as the residents of Bathtub, a defiant bayou community, struggle to keep their sense of home alive, however different it may be to others. It truly has a sense of community as the scenes reflect their celebrations and then their survival skills, regardless of what challenges they face from nature or the “outsiders” who they feel do not respect their way of life.
The Delta-community of Bathtub is separated by a sprawling levee, but residents survive on what they have available. Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives with her father (Henry). Her mother is gone, but Hushpuppy has a dialogue with her somehow in her own world, clinging to a red shirt when things look grim. Some of the scenes are so sad, but at the same time, Wink teaches her through tough love, preparing her for the unraveling of her universe on the brink of becoming an orphan.
Hushpuppy is optimistic and has an extraordinary imagination, believing that the natural order is in balance with the universe. Nature and life change her reality and despite a sinking home, this tiny child must learn to survive because “she has to take care of her own.”
Even prehistoric creatures called aurochs released by environmental changes do not stop her. For some viewers, there may be a bit of confusion with these beasts, but they are woven into the storyline that Hushpuppy narrates on her journey through the unbalancing of her life.
The film is a recipient of two San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation grants and a 2010 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award winner. An official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions, it won the Sundance Institute’s Indian Paintbrush Producer’s Award, and then sold to Fox/Searchlight.
The film is rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality. It may not be recommended for children, but Wallis is a must see!