Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Based on the one-act play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild is the story about a young girl and her father living in a world ravaged by a hurricane as she hopes to bring balance back to her world. Directed by Benh Zeitlin and screenplay by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, the film is a coming-of-age tale of sorts involving a young girl as it is this mix of fantasy and drama. Starring Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an extraordinarily rich film from Benh Zeitlin.

A young girl and her hot-tempered father live in an island isolated from the rest of the world as they deal with the aftermath of a horrific storm that has ruined their community just as a horde of wild beasts are set to arrive. That is pretty much the basis of this film that explores a young girl dealing with her new reality as she believes she is connected to a world that is unique. Particularly as she lives in this island that is isolated with the rest of the world as the only thing nearby to this world is a levee that separates them from the real world. Just as their island is already ravaged by this terrible storm, it’s up to this little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) to deal with what might be coming as well as the fact that her father named Wink (Dwight Henry) is becoming very ill.

The screenplay by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar has a traditional narrative structure as it is told largely from Hushpuppy’s perspective as she does narrate the film. Yet, it does allow the story to wander around as it revolves around Hushpuppy’s idea of the world as she only knows things from her surroundings and the people that live there. When her father disappears for a few days, she wonders what is going on as it shakes things up while she has no idea where her mother is. Following this horrific storm that Hushpuppy believes had caused all of this due to hitting her father as he fell down.

Though Wink believes he can make things right again despite his health, what he does with some of the survivors of the storm would only impact things as forces from the outside world finally arrive. Upon their arrival into the mainland where things are very different from the island known as the Bathtub. Yet, it would be up to Hushpuppy that would find something as she would go on a journey of her own. Even as she knows that there’s mythical beasts that are set to arrive to the Bathtub where it would be this climatic moment where Hushpuppy would become something that would allow her to grow up.

Benh Zeitlin’s direction is definitely filled with an array of gorgeous images as it’s set largely in Montegut, Louisiana as well as parts of the decayed Louisiana bayou to establish this world that is disconnected from the mainland. A lot of Zeitlin’s imagery in the film with its naturalistic exterior settings do play to a lot of the visual language that recalls the works of Terrence Malick. Largely as Malick is known for using reflective voice-over narration as a device to tell the story yet Zeitlin’s approach is quite different from the more poetic Malick. Shot in 16mm and with lots of hand-held cameras, Zeitlin definitely goes for a loose directing style though some of the hand-held camera work gets overly shaky at times. There are also some very sprawling scenes inter-cut with images of glaciers breaking away to establish the arrival of these monsters through a mixture of stock footage and visual effects. Despite a few issues in the film where things lagged a bit, Zeitlin does create a truly enchanting yet sprawling little drama about a young girl coming of age in the wake of terror and adversity.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson does amazing work with the film‘s gorgeous photography for many of the film‘s naturalistic look in many of the film‘s exterior settings along with some gorgeous imagery in the film‘s interior scenes. Editors Crockett Doob and Affonso Goncalves do excellent work with the editing to play out a lot of the film‘s looseness with some jump-cuts as well as some methodical cuts for the film‘s dramatic moments. Production designer Alex DiGerlando, along with set decorator Erin Staub and art director Dawn Masi, does brilliant work with the set pieces from some of the decayed places in the Bathtub island to the look of the boat Hushpuppy and Wink often use to trek around the world outside of the island.

Costume designer Stephani Lewis does nice work with the costumes as a lot of it is casual to play to the look of the Bathtub. Visual effects supervisor Catherine Tate does some fantastic work with the look of the mythical beasts that Hushpuppy and the people of Bathtub are worried about as they look like giant warthogs with ivory on their heads. Sound editor Bob Edwards, along with sound designers Steve Boeddeker and E.J. Holowicki, does terrific work with the sound to capture the atmosphere in the island as well as the sounds of the mythical beasts. The film’s music by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin is wonderful for its mixture of plaintive yet melancholic orchestral-based music driven largely by the piano as well as elements of bluegrass to play out the environment of where the characters live in.

The film’s cast is definitely remarkable for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Lowell Landes as a local in Walrus and Gina Montana as Hushpuppy’s schoolteacher Miss Bathsheba. Dwight Henry is great as the hot-tempered and ailing Wink who tries to deal with Hushpuppy’s wild behavior and his own illness as he also deals with the role that he’s playing. Finally, there’s Quvenzhane Wallis in a phenomenal performance as Hushpuppy as she is this wild and free young girl who tries to deal with the reality that she’s facing as well as being someone who is ready to go head on as it’s a definitely a debut performance that no one will forget.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a enchanting film from Benh Zeitlin that features an incredible leading performance from Quvenzhane Wallis. The film is definitely a superbly rich coming-of-age story that revolves a young girl trying to salvage everything she had lost in a storm while having to become someone that can help her community. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to bring reality and fantasy into the mix as it manages to work. In the end, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a spellbinding and fascinating film from Benh Zeitlin.

© thevoid99 2013


Chris said...

Enjoyed Beasts as well. The academy should have fun on oscar night with the youngest ever nominee Quvenzhane Wallis and oldest in Emmanuelle Riva.

thevoid99 said...

Part of me wants to go for Emmanuelle Riva but part of me wants Wallis to win. It's anyone's game and I wouldn't be upset at who wins that award. I'm still miffed that Marion Cotillard didn't get nominated.

3guys1movie.com said...

Had a good time watching this one. Was really impressed with the performance of Wallis, especially considering her age.

Despite my enjoyment of the film it left me feeling conflicted. I really wanted to get Hushpuppy some clothes, food, a toothbrush, a warm bed etc... Not to say that I did not appreciate her unique back to nature freewheeling lifestyle.

thevoid99 said...

@3guys1movie.com-I had the same feeling for Hushpuppy though I would have her keep that afro of hers. I like that little afro.