director Benh Zeitlin
Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays the 6 year old protagonist Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, is indeed wonderful. Director Benh Zeitlin’s greatest achievement is in evoking the performance from the little girl. She is the heart and soul of the film, set on a fictional island near the mouth of the delta of the Mississippi River outside New Orleans.
And it’s easy to see why some people could be so wowed by her to confuse the experience as a good movie.
The story follows Hushpuppy and her father and their ramshackle existence, in an outsider society in pretty extreme poverty. When their world is torn up and submerged by a major storm, the people are trucked into a hospital, which is portrayed as a cold, mechanized, conforming removal of freedom. The levee that both protected and failed New Orleans is also an emblem of society(?) that they wish to destroy. And the coming of the giant hog creatures, the “Aurochs”, that is a metaphor for the coming apocalypse? A back to nature event?
It’s a fantasy world, perhaps meant to represent Hushpuppy’s childish perspective and understanding of the world she inhabits on the edge of society, an encampment of poverty, at threat of nature and its whims. It bears an aspect of magical realism, though with a heavy dose of forced effort. I’ve heard it compared stylistically to Terrence Malick. But it’s a style with which even Malick has questionable success these days.
I didn’t buy it.
But I do think that Dwight Henry, another non-professional actor, who plays Hushpuppy’s father, was also quite good. And I don’t think it’s awful. I do think it’s a qualified failure, with some unique highlights of its quite magical star.
Frankly, I kept thinking that someone needed to call Child Protective Services throughout.