Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Those little 6-year olds, man, they really can change the world.

The protagonist is a six-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) who exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.

Throughout the whole Summer movie season, when people are getting tired of seeing all of the non-stop action, special effects, and big-budget extravaganzas that grace the big screen almost every weekend, it’s good to know that you can rely on these small, indie films that may not look or sound like those flicks, but still carry the same power and entertainment value. Go indie film-making!

This is the directorial debut of a dude named Benh Zeitlin and it’s a very impressive one to say the least. One of the most striking elements to this whole film is the look of it all. The town that these people live in, is about half-way destroyed because of the constant storms that come on through it and everything just looks dirty, stinky, and terribly grimy beyond belief. However, these people live it up and use it to the best that they can by never taking anything that they have for advantage, and always trying to look on the bright side by never leaving their homes, even when there are huge storms approaching that promise to destroy everything in sight. This, not only shows you the type of atmosphere and setting that these people surround themselves with, but it also takes you into a somewhat different world. A different world that actually isn’t part of the U.S. or part of anything else at all, it’s just their own, little world that they choose to live in and love no matter how disgusting or unsafe it can be.

The vision that this guy has for his movie is striking because it’s able to take you somewhere, you didn’t expect and with a very small budget, it’s actually terribly impressive. It almost feels like this guy has been walking through the streets his whole life, picking up little pieces of scrap, that could one day all be used for his own feature film, and he puts altogether right here for us to see and feast our eyes on. You can also tell that there is a little bit of Terrence Malick influence in this guy as well as the shaky-cam option works and gives this film a very distinct, if grainy look that may some throw off. Me, on the other hand, enjoyed that aspect and it made me feel like I was right there with this story as everything was happening.

Much like Malick’s last flick, The Tree of Life, the visuals and sound are in tip-top shape, but the story is also very strong as well, mainly because it’s featured around one of those little innocent kids that we usually see in movies, and love just about every time. What separates this little girl Hushpuppy, from all of those other same character types, is that she pretty much has to depend on herself for everything considering her mommy is gone and her daddy is an unreliable drunk (but are there such a thing as a reliable one?). So, right from the start, you can tell that she’s a strong character that has plenty of strong feelings, wants to see the world for all of its beauties and horrors, and just wants to do the right thing. Sounds pretty familiar, especially when you’re talking about a child protagonist, but there’s just something about her and her story that reels you in right from the start, and doesn’t let you go until you feel like you’ve had enough. Needless to say, I got very involved with this story and somewhat found myself tearing up a bit at the end, but, that doesn’t mean I ain’t no pussy! You’ll only get that last line if you saw the movie. Sorry if I offended anybody.

I think the main reason why Hushpuppy was a great character from the start, was because of the great performance from 9-year old new-comer, Quvenzhané Wallis. Yes, Quvenzhané Wallis, remember the name people. Wallis is such a strong force here and does an amazing job carrying this role because she never really over-acts and comes off as a little girl that is really getting to see all of the world for what it is: some beautiful parts, and some very horrifying parts as well. Whenever she’s given the chance to emote, she nails it and whenever she needs to be strong without saying anything and just by standing there, she’s even better and you can feel what she’s feeling. She’s a confused and frantic little girl, and you feel for her but she never asks for your sympathy and that’s what really got me liking this character right away. Definitely look for this girl’s name to be popping up next February.

Another strong performance from this cast is by the guy who plays her drunken daddy, Dwight Henry. It’s crazy to see that this guy has had no prior acting experience whatsoever and is actually a baker, of all random jobs to have. But regardless of what he is in real-life, this guy is still amazing in this role because he goes throughout the whole movie with this mean edge, dangerous look in his eyes, and very weak frame of mind, but in the end, you still care for him because you know he was the one who loved and cared for Hushpuppy, when nobody else would. Henry has this certain type of presence about him that keeps this movie running on strong whenever he’s around and even when he isn’t, you know he’s somewhere around and ready to just come in bring his mad-ass back. Great performance from a guy who hopefully gets put on the map because of this and everybody else does a great job as well, considering barely any of them have had little or no acting experience whatsoever.

My two problems with this film though, kept me away from really loving like I wish I could have. My first problem with this movie may sound really lame and soft but I have to be honest and say that this flick almost made me puke. The whole film has this dirty and disgusting look to it that really is in-your-face the whole time, which worked, but at the same time, didn’t because it just made me feel sick to my stomach. However, that wasn’t as bad as some of the shit I saw whenever they would show dead animals or stuff like that and even though I know they’re all fake, I still couldn’t help but think they looked a little too realistic and it was just too disgusting for me to watch at points. Did I make it through without throwing up? Yes, but should that even be a question in the first place? Don’t really think so. It should more or less be saved for the torture-porn horror movies.

Another problem I had with this film was the Beats’ themselves. For the first hour or so, they didn’t bother me because I actually felt scared about them making their way to all of these innocent souls, but after awhile, once you get to see how they really look, up-close and personal, it’s a little distracting. I know that this is a low-budget, indie movie that shouldn’t really be taken points away from because of their special effects, but they don’t really gel with the story at the end and look more fake than I actually expected them to be. Still, I got to give it to a director for actually going down this road, even though it hurt him just a tad bit.

Consensus: With emotional story-telling, bright and powerful vision, and strong performances from this group of no-names, Beasts of the Southern Wild is exactly what you could want in a low-budget, indie flick that will take you out of the world you live in today, and take you to this brand-new, magical world you never knew ever existed.



  1. I loved this movie. Hands down, the best thing I’ve seen all year. I genuinely hope that Wallis becomes one of the youngest Oscar nominees in history. She was just remarkable! And Zeitlin is a shoe-in at the Independent Spirits awards for this first feature. Amazing!

    Great review!

    • I think she’ll definitely get a nomination and even though I didn’t love this movie like you did my friend, I still will be cheering for it when Oscar time comes around. Thanks!

  2. The reviews for this have made me curious.This is the first time i heard someone talk about it looking too real but i don’t see that bothering me. But i am getting kind of annoyed with the whole shaky cam-realistic idea a lot of filmmakers seem to have these days

  3. One film I’m really looking forward to eventually seeing. Everything I’ve heard about this one has been on the positive side. Have a feeling I may have to wait for it on rental 😦

    Your review has definitely made me want to hunt it out, even if it gets a tiny limited release here!

  4. This movie really affected me. I saw it three days ago and I’m still thinking about it. I still need to write a review! Enjoyed yours very much.

  5. I was fortunate enough to catch a pre-screening of this with the director and cast doing a Q&A afterward. It’s a wonderful little film, and it’s even more amazing that this is the director’s first feature, and that the cast is full of first-time actors. Glad you dug this one as well, Dan.

  6. Another great review Dan, as I’ve said to a couple other people my appreciation for this one actually grew the day after seeing it and that’s what really marks a great movie to me.

    I completely agree with you though that the Beasts were one of the weakest parts of the movie, between failing to differentiate between them being metaphorical or real and the overall unimaginative look of the beasts themselves (a pig with horns? didn’t really exert themselves on that one) I felt like they could’ve been totally removed from the story and the film would have been just as emotionally compelling.

    Lastly, I never saw Tree of Life but if since I liked BOTSW would you recommend it to me?

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