Writer/director Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild is an unusual film set in the Louisiana bayou in the fictional locale of “Isle de Charles Doucet,” commonly referred to by its residents as the Bathtub. Adapted by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar from Alibar’s one-act play “Juicy and Delicious,” the film is centered around a six year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) whose world is threatened by her father’s (Dwight Henry) sudden illness and an approaching storm which causes the outside world to encroach on the tightly-knit community.
Although the Bathtub doesn’t actually exist it was inspired by several small fishing villages along the bayou constantly threatened by hurricanes, a rising sea level, and erosion. Zeitlin gives us a fully-formed world without judgment or bias. The community of the Bathtub is an uproarious bunch who refuse to leave their homes even if doing so might save their lives from the oncoming storm.
In order to deal with situations no six year-old should have to handle, Hushpuppy’s imagination creates giant Aurochs freed from the melting ice caps she’s told about in school who continue to race to the bayou and their eventual confrontation with Hushpuppy. The film fully embraces magical realism while allowing audiences to decide for themselves the meaning of the more fantastic pieces of the film such as the Aurochs. The result is a gritty, lived-in world that weaves its own magic for the young girl determined to help her father and community survive their oncoming battles of survival and forced evacuation.
As I stated above, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an unusual tale, but it’s world is terrifically depicted and explored. Quvenzhané Wallis is so good in a lead role I’d love to see her get some serious Oscar consideration. And the supporting cast, particularly Henry, all feel natural in roles that could so easily feel forced or skewed to parody.
As a character study, slice of life examination of a sheltered community, and as a coming of age tale, it’s a tremendous piece of filmmaking worthy of notice by audiences willing to seek a film that at times isn’t that easy to watch mashing up Hushpuppy’s wide-eyed imagination with extreme poverty and a harsh life (including a parenting style many will object to) that offers beautiful scenery but no easy answers.
Available on both Blu-ray and DVD, extras include a short film by Benh Zeitlin, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes the DVD and a digital copy of the film.
[20th Century Fox, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo $39.99 / DVD $29.98]