tue 30/09/2014

DVD: Beasts of the Southern Wild | Film reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Two great performances at heart of Hurricane Katrina drama

Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry getting by in the Deep South

It's difficult to categorise Benh Zeitlin's feature debut, which is engaging and flawed in equal measure. Part drama, part dream-like experience, it was made as a riposte to the catastropically poor management of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We don't know when this story is set, though; it could be modern-day or it could be just as easily in a post-apocalyptic future when climate change is wreaking havoc in the bayous of southern Louisiana, whose strange beauty the camera lingers on in several scenes without drama or dialogue.

It's set in a wetland area called the Bathtub by its poor and disadvanted residents, who barely survive as they raise livestock and pickle their livers on moonshine. Dwight Henry is Wink, a hard-drinking single father living in a filthy shack with his six-year-old daughter, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis). He's seriously ill, not just from an unnamed disease, but suffering from a broken heart after the loss of Hushpuppy's mother, a woman so beautiful, he says, that she could light the gas stove just by walking past it.

Normal life - school, police and other authority – barely impinges as the residents mostly live off-grid. When the flood (with its biblical overtones) comes, their homes are destroyed and Bathtub's residents are forced to move to the rescue centre, only to escape when they fear being taken into “the system” they have managed to live outside of for generations.

Some characters are straight out of the shucks-dawgone-missy school of Southern clichés, but it's a mostly entertaining 90 minutes, with occasional longueurs and some rather weirdly juxtaposed scenes of an Arctic ice shelf breaking up and falling into the sea. There are two exceptional performances from Henry and Wallis, who has been nominated for an Oscar, the youngest actress to be so, one of four nominations for the film.  

Normal life - school, police and other authority – barely impinges

rating

3

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