DVD review: Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

(M) ****

Director: Benh Zeitlin.

Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana.

THE word "unique" is one of the most over-used (and incorrectly used) in the English language but it's probably suitable to describe this strangely different and slightly magical film.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild snuck onto a new level of public awareness when it found itself nestled in among this year's best picture Oscar nominees from the likes of Tarantino, Lee and Spielberg.

The reason for this could be its "uniqueness" - it's a real-world fairytale told from a child's point of view that mixes the fantastical with the practical, creating a tone that is all its own.

The child at the story's centre is six-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis), a resilient kid who lives with her dad Wink (Henry) in an area known as The Bathtub, a cobbled-together community living on the wrong side of a levee in the Louisiana bayou.

The Bathtub comes under threat from a storm, submerging the town, but that's not the only difficulty Hushpuppy faces. Her father is ill and keeps disappearing, she misses her mother, and climate change has unleashed a herd of extinct aurochs that are coming to get her.

The childish view of the world is amplified by keeping Hushpuppy in the frame almost continually, and when the adult characters aren't talking to Hushpuppy, their dialogue is overlapping and often indistinct.

As we come to understand the world of The Bathtub and the bayou, it is through Hushpuppy's eyes and her narration, which helps create the film's unique tone.

This would not be possible without an amazing child actor and Wallis is just that. Only six years old, her intelligent and beyond-her-years performance is the highlight of the film and the glue that holds it together. She's also the comic relief in the face of some grim moments.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a tale of survival, not just on a personal level but on a global level. The metaphoric use of the aurochs - which also adds to the fairytale vibe - is part of a broader theme, as well as representing the disasters and trials Hushpuppy must face in order to survive and mature.

Zeitlin's direction is largely handheld and the setting of the derelict Bathtub community creates a weird realism amid the more surreal moments.

By being strange, thoughtful and quiet, this film may not be to all tastes, but it's worth checking out for Wallis' performance alone.

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