Sunday, 23 June 2013

Film Review | Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

Regardless of individual or popular opinion, Beasts Of The Southern Wild has its place in cinematic history set thanks to achieving the youngest nomination for a Best Actress Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards for its nine-year-old star Quvenzhané Wallis. It's a shame then that the performances of Wallis alongside co-star Dwight Henry are the only thing worth recommending in a film seriously lacking in substance or cohesion.

The film is at its strongest when Wallis and Henry share screen time on their own, both giving performances which play off each other pleasingly. Even though Wink (Henry) is regularly quite cruel to his five-year-old daughter Hushpuppy (Wallis), often without any real reason other than to take out his frustrations of their harsh living conditions, by the film's conclusion the pair have managed to craft a touching and unique relationship on screen. Disappointingly, the rest of Beasts Of The Southern Wild's cast of characters is either distractingly irritating or so fleetingly seen as to be severely lacking in depth. Either way you'll find yourself caring very little about anyone other than Hushpuppy and Wink.

The problems elsewhere are even less easy to forgive. The film takes place in a world seemingly set sometime in the relatively near future, but presented as equal parts stark realism and childlike fantasy. Both views bleed into each other through the viewpoint and narration we are given by Hushpuppy, but largely work to cancel each other out. Director Benh Zeitlin shows a knack for shooting nature at its harshest and most extreme, but the fantastical edge regularly applied to the film severely dulls any moralistic or environmental message he was going for. By the same token, the elements presumably happening in Hushpuppy's imagination lack vibrance and magic when presented through such a starkly grim lens. Elsewhere, Zeitlin's attempts at linking his film into a deeper mythology - such as a floating nightclub called "Elysian Fields" - feel like weak efforts to raise the film to a higher literary level and quickly fall flat.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild ultimately manages the feat of coming across as incredibly preachy whilst at the same time saying and being about nothing. Zeitlin's narrative is almost arrogantly haphazard, as if the director feels he is above a cohesive story, and his message feels sanctimonious without having a core set of beliefs to base itself around. Despite a running time of just an hour and a half, this drags. Zeitlin is lucky in that his film at least looks good, and that he has two talented actors in the lead roles. Without these two saving graces, maybe the Academy would have seen through the Emperor's new clothes in which Beasts Of The Southern Wild constantly wraps itself.


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