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“Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Sundance Review (POSITIVE)

August 26, 2012

This year as you may or may not know, I had attended Sundance, and the first movie I got to see was the World Premiere for Sundance Volunteers ONLY of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Here is that very review from that very night:

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is ture blue Sundance film. Directed by a first time filmmaker, Benh Zeitlin, starring two leads who’ve never acted a day in their life, and a story that’s as rich as the soil the film takes place on; Louisiana. Zeitlin’s film was selected at the Sundance directors workshop, I believe it was 2009. A Sundance feature project is backed by Sundance. It doesn’t get anymore Sundance-y than that. The film is based on a stage play, scripted by the co-screenwriter Lucky Alibar.

“Beasts” tells the heroing story about a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) & her drunk/angry-fueled father Wink (Dwight Henry) living in ‘the Bathtub’ of Louisiana. The bathtub is a swamp land, a flooded community of post-Katrina. The film itself is a post-Katrina story, the islands at the very end of Lousiana are continuing to flood even to this day. Hushpuppy & Wink live the life as modern day caveman. They have their own huts, they hunt, they forage, they survive. The world is change, to polar ice caps are melting, and hidden within the blocks of ice are these prehistoric creatures known as aurochs, boars the size of a two story house.

Wink’s tough love prepares Hushpuppy for the unknown. Everyday he seems to be training her to be a tough survivor, better yet, a warrior. Wink continues to train her for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. Wink contracts a mysterious illness, as nature goes onto the brink of the end; the temperatures rise, the ice caps melt, the water rises, and the hurd of aurochs approach closer and closer, Wink’s health is fading, and Hushpuppy ventures on a personal journey to find her lost mother.

In a sense, “Beasts” is a bit of a creature feature (the visual effects of the aurochs are amazing), an end of the world picture, a self discovery story, and personal story about a father and daughter. It’s amazing how the performance from both Wallis & Henry were presented to us. Wallis is a child actor, from what I’ve gathered, but Dwight Henry’s story is vastly different. He was just a normal everyday New Orleans baker, he owns his own bakery. The filmmakers were doing a cast call across from where he works, they would go into his place and purchase food and befriend him. After a while, they asked Dwight to come in and read for the part. Benh saw something in Dwight that Dwight didn’t see before. And the rest was history. The final moments between Wink & Hushpuppy is extremely heart-breaking and all together powerful. I sincerely hope the two of them have a fruitful acting career.

The only thing that kept me a bit uneased about the movie experience was it’s cinematography. Personally, I’m not a fan of shaky cam style cinematography and this film has A LOT of that. But to the films credit, it does play to the films advantage giving it a gritty, in your face, realistic approach, and for that I have to give them props for doing so. The production design was stellar, seriously, these homes, boats, and surroundings you see in the film are fantastic. I kept trying to wrap my mind around it, wondering how they did a lot of what we see in the film. The creatures were intense and scary, but there’s more to them than being vicious monsters.

Great story, powerfully raw acting by newcomers, top-notch production, design, and for a first time feature director, it was aces in my book. Hopefully “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will be picked up by a studio and recieve a deserving release this year.

GRADE: A-

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