“Beasts of the Southern Wild” may get lost amid the summer blockbusters although it is just as mythic as “Prometheus” and, like “Brave,” stars an incredibly strong girl, but it risks getting covered up by films of less subtlety and grace.
Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink, in the part of the Louisiana delta known as The Bathtub. His love for his girl is tough, preparatory. He lives in his house; she lives in hers across the way — neither shack would be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. Wink rings a bell when dinner’s done, which means the chicken he killed and grilled is ready for them to devour down to the bones. Hushpuppy’s mother has been long gone. The girl talks to her mother, or to the abandoned athletic jersey draped over a chair, and she longs for her, calling “Mamma” into the wet horizon. On top of that loss, Wink is dying.
Hushpuppy’s voice narrates her story, which includes the greater stories of civilization and history and science. The ice caps, she prophesies, are going to melt; temperatures and water levels are going to rise. “Sometimes,” Hushpuppy allows, “you can break something so bad that it can’t be put back together.”
The children’s teacher explains life through myths about prehistoric creatures called aurochs, who prey on tiny girls. Hushpuppy is resourceful, but then that’s a trait of the whole community (just look at those motor boats). Hushpuppy and Wink also have community, people who sing and dance and drink and live, not close to the earth, but close to the water. They deal with floods and levees and outsiders who think they know better than the indigines. But, Wink insists, “up in the dry world, they don’t got what we got.”
Wink is well played by Dwight Henry, whose day job is running a restaurant in New Orleans. Wink is a riveting character, but it is Hushpuppy who demands attention. Quvenzhane´ Wallis”, beautiful and fierce and eight years old, playing the six-year-old girl, who commands the film in action and voice-over. Wallis never flags despite being in every frame.
Much of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is breath-taking and unpredictable because the culture of the community is rare. Writers Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin create a story around a different world, and Zeitlin’s direction is focused and earnest. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” won the World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary competitions of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It would be a shame if it were to be bulldozed by a blockbuster.