Benh Zeitlin’s first feature Beasts of the Southern Wild is an amazing portrayal of a child’s imagination and an impressive first feature film. The film takes place on a Southern Bayou island called The Bathtub and follows the exploits of a father, Wink (Dwight Henry) and his young daughter, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis). Beasts is mainly told from the perspective of Hushpuppy, as it weaves back and forth through reality and fantasy. From mythical beasts that have plagued man from the beginning of time to the nature of the universe itself, the viewpoint of this young female character is the very heart and soul of Beasts. While the script and the character’s aren’t developed as well as the visuals in the film, Benh Zeitlin and Court 13, the film crew collective that helped the film come to realization have done an incredible job on their first outing and show some amazing promise.
The script of the film is very lean and relies heavily on the visuals and performances of Wink and Hushpuppy. Quvenzhané Wallis’ performance as Hushpuppy is one of the vital elements the essential glue that keeps Beasts together. From her interactions with the world around her, to the strength that she exudes when her father demands it, shows how much of a natural Wallis is and how skilled Zeitlin is as a director, with him working with an inexperienced child actor. While there were times when you can tell that Dwight Henry isn’t a professional actor, he still manages to craft a great character and trades his non-existent skills into pure, raw emotions for his portrayal of Wink. The moments where he demands her to be masculine, shows how he isn’t capable of giving his daughter the feelings and respect that she deserves, but shows her the ferocity of how the world can be and gives her what he can in order for her to survive.
Beasts of the Southern Wild boasts some breathtaking imagery and this can attributed to Cinematographer Ben Richardson and the amazing work that the special effects and visual effects team did with a limited budget. Shot on Super 16 and utilizing everything from practical effects, miniatures, green screens and awesome production design give Beasts of the Southern Wild a striking visual style that will make people want to revisit the film over and over again. The score done by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin is also fantastic and also helps give the film plenty of vitality and its sense of wonder. Its very much rooted in the south, with its use of the accordion, violins and plenty of other elements that give the score its vibrancy and power.
The Blu-Ray from Fox Searchlight showcases the films video and audio in the highest quality possible and also boasts a few special features that show how much love and care went into the film. The 22 minute making of, shows how Court 13 came to make the film and how much of a collaborative effort it was on many people’s parts. There’s also the short film that Zeitlin did before making Beasts, titled, Glory at Sea, that was the precursor to Beasts and is also a joy to watch.
The level of joy, enthusiasm and care that went into the making of Beasts of the Southern Wild certainly bleeds from the screen. The sheer fact that in the end credits shows that it was a film made by Court 13, than the typical director, proves that it takes a village to make a film and after this outing, I can’t wait to see what other magic they can weave in another film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and one can certainly do no wrong in picking up Fox Searchlight’s exceptional release of it! Highly Recommended!