Thursday, July 12, 2012
Review of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)
- Rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.
- Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper
- Written by Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
- Directed by Benh Zeitlin
- Running time: 1hr 33min
This film was the talk of the town at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. It definitely takes place in a world never really seen in film before. The story takes place in "the bathtub" which is a community in the Southern Delta. Away from the reality of the city, people do what they like here. The folks are all low income, don't have all their teeth and are quite barbaric. It's almost like they're from another planet.
The main character is Hushpuppy, a seven year old girl who has a violent, ill-tempered asshole for a dad, who is called Wink. There is a moment in the beginning that has Hushpuppy burn her house down while trying to cook a meal, then her dad chews her out for it. He wasn't around to cook her dinner because he's a sick man, but it's still no excuse to be a dick all the time. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Back to the story. There is a bad storm and everyone's homes in the bathtub are washed away. Now, everyone is in their boats trying to survive in this mess. Wink and some other community members have a brilliant idea to blow up the damn to bring the water down, but you know that can't end good. Oh yeah, there are also some weird mythical creatures roaming around that may or may not be real.
Well, at least you can't blame the filmmakers for doing the same old Hollywood stories. It's a complete original, and that's why I think it's getting a lot of praise. It certainly has a unique tone throughout. The performances by Wallis as Hushpuppy and Henry as Wink are incredibly raw and intense. It sounds like they are going to be nominated and I can't really argue with that. Their natural ability is clearly evident here.
The story is going to turn many mainstream movie goers off. It's so bizarre and out there that I don't think you're average Joe in a smelly T-shirt will get it. I found it a noble, ambitious try. I don't think it quite came together. It's a bit of a mess. Most of that has to do with Zeitlin's directorial choices. Unfortunately, he decided to film the entire movie with handheld cameras. That's fine, but it seemed like his camera operator had Parkinson's. It is so incredibly shaky that I found myself having to look away much of the time. I have seen many handheld movies (I even liked the last two BOURNE films), but this was out of control. It was like he was shaking it on purpose. It was distracting and completely unnecessary. I don't understand why you would want to sabotage your film like that. Did you want it to look like shit? I'm a filmmaker myself which is why I'm asking this. I have employed the handheld technique before, but I used it for a purpose. And when I used it, I didn't over do it so it would take away from the story.
This pains me, cause I really hate picking on an independent film. These are the movies that take chances. And this one certainly does. The acting is brilliant and the story is truly original (though I think some of the fantasy elements don't quite gel in the end), but the shaky cam technique needs to be put out of it's misery. It's destroying many potentially good movies. If you use this technique, it must be used correctly. And Director Zeitlin doesn't for his feature debut. Let's hope next time he learns his lesson. It's not horrible by any means, but I think I'm being harder on it than most BAD movies because this one had lots of potential.
**1/2 (out of ****)