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Quvenzhané Wallis
Dwight Henry.
Benh Zeitlin.
Benh Zeitlin
Lucy Alibar.
Running Time
93 minutes

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Beasts Of The Southern Wild
A magical masterpiece

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Hushpuppy (Wallis) is a little girl who lives a semi-feral life of freedom in rundown Louisiana town The Bathtub, a place with no rules and no planning regulations. A storm floods the area, so she sets off with her sick father (Henry) on a mission to reclaim their land.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild
As its title suggests, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is no ordinary movie. It’s an eccentric, low-budget travelogue that, at times, beggars belief as its characters pass through its waterlogged swamplands. Anything goes in The Bathtub, and it usually does. The local pub has dispensed with licensing hours altogether and in the film’s most iconic scene, little Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) runs through the town’s festival night with a Roman candle in each hand. The sets look like something out of Mad Max 2 but, despite its fantasy trimmings, this is a real story about a hidden but also very real world.

Though it doesn’t ape his meticulous style, director Terrence Malick is a touchstone here, since its fractured voiceover and opening, montage-like scenes of an anarchic rural idyll recall his 1978 film Days Of Heaven. But where Malick’s film saw a complicated story from a simple girl’s point of view, Beasts Of The Southern Wild shows a younger girl wrestling with her immediate circumstances in the aftermath of a devastating Katrina-like weather event. Though it never goes as far as patriotism, the theme here is roots, dealing with pride and community in the most abject circumstances. But while this is a world beyond poverty, it is way beyond misery too.

With great generosity, director Benh Zeitlin gives us two films for one. Hushpuppy is the focus, but the film deals with her father’s journey, too. Wink (Dwight Henry) believes in tough love, giving Hushpuppy the space to run wild. At first sight it seems he doesn’t care, but Wink cares very much. He wants Hushpuppy to take over in the event of his death, so he teaches her the skills she’ll need when he’s gone. This isn’t sentimental, Sting-saves-the-rainforest stuff, though. From her father, Hushpuppy inherits a ruthless militancy that, despite the eventual interference of do-good white liberals, literally prepares her for the end of the world.

Key to this are two astonishing performances by Wallis and Henry, two non-professionals drafted in from the metropolitan areas of New Orleans. Both sink effortlessly into roles that have no template, Henry being especially convincing as the unsentimental Wink, who tries to reassure Hushpuppy on the night of the storm by picking an angry fight with it, blasting his shotgun up into the torrential rain. Wallis, however, holds her own, showing no fear as the intrepid, shock-haired tomboy.

The parallel story involves Hushpuppy’s fears for the world, mirrored in her search for her missing mother, herself a strong woman whose face is obscured but whose presence is felt, long after her mysterious departure. This, too, is handled without sentiment — just another aspect of the heroine’s journey — and Zeitlin keeps things admirably vague, using the search as poetic device and not a literal quest that will pay off with a comfortable Hollywood coda. Does she ever meet her mother? That would be telling but, like other strands of this thoughtful tapestry, it’s something to be debated after the credits roll.

That’s because Beasts Of The Southern Wild isn’t simply a film about outlandish spectacle; it’s a film about survival in its purest form. Hushpuppy carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, believing it to be so badly broken that only she can fix it, a nightmare we see in the form of marauding aurochs — giant warthogs — that pursue her throughout the film. Can she outrun them? Tame them, even? That is Hushpuppy’s mission, but this is not a standard eco-doom movie, rather an empowerment story for the generation growing up in the shadow of Al Gore’s apocalypse.

Beautiful, funny, timely and tender, this is the American arthouse movie of the year.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Average user rating for Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Empire Star Rating


I'm guilty of this as I'm sure most people on the plant are. Getting annoyed with other peoples reviews and opinions. So all the lovers of this film please dont scream, but I thought this film was very average. It seems to me that if you come up with an original idea and make it look good, you have instantly made a classic. This film was beautiful and the acting was good, but Oscar best picture good? Not for me. I found the first hour quite boring. It did get better towards the end but I just th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 09:30, 05 March 2013 | Report This Post

Truly spectacular and one of the most progressive magic realist films I've seen in a while. Which takes me onto the question - Who would win in a feminist fist-fight: Hushpuppy or Miss Moneypenny? Answers at ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by poppycack at 17:05, 03 March 2013 | Report This Post

Beautiful film, great acting, super story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by philshepp at 21:27, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post

Utter Tosh

zzzzzzzzzzzz unlikable characters ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 17:06, 15 February 2013 | Report This Post

Lost in the Wild

How a film with no plot, characters who do nothing and with whom it is impossible to empathise, in a style which veers from irritatingly incomprehensible garbage to pretentious self-indulgent triteness can earn itself 5 stars is beyond me. This rates below Shame, which is saying something - at least that looked good at times, this was just a mess. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dillon the Villain at 16:53, 15 January 2013 | Report This Post

Everything about this film down to the story, the acting, the direction and the cinematography is stunning. Almost perfect ... More

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Posted by danfacey711 at 20:26, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post

tp://]Beas ts Of The Southern Wildight at the end of the year I`ve seen one of the year`s best. Seen from the point of view of Hushpuppy, a little girl who lives with her father in the muddy area`s of southern Louisiana, first time director Benh Zeitlin gives a look into the lives of her and her father. Lives in wich taking care of yourself without any outside help plays a big role and in wich there is no place for pity. It is a film in wich exist... More

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Posted by TheGodfather at 21:18, 30 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Beasts Of The Summer Wild

Watched this the other day. A truly special film, and not like anything I have seen in quite some time. Such a powerful and emotional film, and only just misses out on my favourite film of the year. ... More

Posted by nhassell at 01:38, 08 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Beasts Of The Summer Wild

Sorry for this but I have a different opinion... I am fairly deaf so missed a lot of the dialog at first. Mainly visuals. Pardon me but I immediately globalized the delta scene. Nigeria? Bangladesh? Indonesia? Surinam? everywhere tribes of people form and gather and live on the utter fringes of the petroleum planet - using scraps and refuse for homes and tools. I disassociated this from any regular old Delta/Cajun style film. I suppose most think of Hurricane Katrina - I think climate chan... More

Posted by carleslempner at 02:40, 03 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Beasts Of The Summer Wild

Wow. That was something genuinely really, really special. So powerful, so emotional, so sad and uplifting. The movie of the year. This is why I love cinema. b] ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 01:08, 01 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Beasts Of The Summer Wild

And there it is. That one film which justifies it all. That one film which reassures you that cinema isn’t lost to the bloated mess of Battleships and Bayhem. Thank you Benh Zeitling for creating a film of genuine passion and energy. A film so full of life that in the first 15 minutes you start to wonder if your petty grievances with your own day-to-day goings-on will ever bother you again. Beasts of the Southern Wild arrives after its Cannes/Sundance glory and demonstrates immediately jus... More

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Posted by Biggus at 12:36, 01 November 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Beasts Of The Summer Wild

There is nothing more powerful than a child’s imagination and when done properly in a cinematic way, it becomes a masterstroke of storytelling, as previously shown in Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth and Spike Jonze’s more child-friendly Where the Wild Things Are. Taking its cue from Lucy Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious, Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut is an arthouse drama that is both ecological and magical. Set in a bayou community on an island surrounded by r... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 13:45, 27 October 2012 | Report This Post

Bespoke dreams and blurred reality: Beasts that go raaawwrr

Incredible film of honest dream sequencing. Totally just blogged about it- bespoke-dreams-and-blurred-reality/ ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HeraldingChaz at 23:18, 26 October 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Strong Contender for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress nominees

Just seen this tonight. Still processing it a bit, but I loved it. Favourite film of the year so far? Quite possibly.... ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 23:38, 22 October 2012 | Report This Post

Strong Contender for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress nominees

From the trailer I was bit worried this was going to be yet another American Indie mumble-core piece. but Beasts of the Southern Wild is something else entirely. Reminds me of The Band - Music from the Big Pink - its on another level, there's magic realism, bits of Mallick's "Days of Heaven", post apocalyptic fantasy and everything what Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things are" should have been. Brilliant ... More

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Posted by atom_band at 08:57, 16 October 2012 | Report This Post

Southern, not Summer!

You really ought to fix the title! You are better than this Empire ;-) ... More

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Posted by Pixaroholic at 11:32, 15 October 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Empire Fix the Title!

Very much looking forward to this ... More

Posted by moehat at 22:12, 26 September 2012 | Report This Post

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