Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is garnering much critical acclaim, receiving several awards at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and it is no surprise why. Screening now at the Cornerhouse, the director’s debut creates an eccentric hybrid between fantasy and reality telling a sentimental tale of a young girl and her father.
In what at first seems an almost post-apocalyptic setting, the water-logged town called the Bathtub in the Bayou of Louisiana brings us to a much simpler and primitive way of life. The story of a sick father Wink and his young daughter Hushpuppy is touching. The film is a journey for both the audience and the characters, and at times it feels part hallucination and part reality against the setting of the Katrina-like storm. Beasts of the Southern Wild is certainly inspired by the work of Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and this is a cornerstone for the film as it brings us aspects reminiscent of his work, in particular the reference to the fantastical shots of the ‘beasts.’
Even though there is no doubt it will draw a few tears, this apocalyptic setting does not instigate a downbeat ending. The performance from Wink (Dwight Henry) is outstanding, and for a non-professional actor this is quite awe-inspiring. In particular with Hushpuppy, child acting performances don’t get quite as good as this, and I’m sure that after this film Quvenzhané Wallis will be deservedly caught in a bright spotlight.