Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Jul/120

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful looking, wonderfully acted, and altogether fascinating film. I didn't enjoy a minute of it, but I'd be totally remiss if I didn't put in that first sentence.

Set on the coast in a little town named Bathtub, it follows young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) as they deal with their own version of the end of the world. Wink has a disease, and Hushpuppy needs to find her mother-- these form the backbone of the film's dueling quests.

The Bathtub is a town made up of dirty detritus and trailers with sheets used to keep out the rain. It's a town that embodies a sort of grotesque simplicity, a wreck of civilization. The world of cities and capitalism lies on the other side of the levee, characterized by glimmering towers of industry. The imagined rivalry by the remaining residents of Bathtub after a massive storm and those on the other side of that wall informs much of what makes Bathtub so interesting-- it's non-conformity and independence taken to dangerous extremes.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

It's portrayal of the South as a mixture of cultures, wealth and isolation is a potent one; certainly a nice 180 from the placid, indiscriminate depictions of the South from the likes of What to Expect When You're Expecting or October Baby. However, it's not exactly a huge step up, as most of the people portrayed in Beasts would seem, on the surface, to be varying degrees of batshit insane.

This mimics the grotesque simplicity of the city's design I mentioned earlier. Bathtub is a town that spits in the face of conventionality, filled with people drinking, partying and having fun far from the visible confines of modern normality. Machismo and gumption is the most useful trait here in this town, and Hushpuppy's relationship with Wink is defined by how much he pushes her to be independent and vicious.

My beef with the film (you knew I was getting here) is that it never manages to escape the feeling that we're watching a turgid Terry Gilliam film. Feeling like a bad mix between Tideland and The Fisher King, the film elevates Hushpuppy's youthful ramblings to a philosophy. She's not a very compelling character to follow, and Beasts insistence to romanticize her musings grow grating.

The villain?

Not the actor's fault, but she's too passive for her hero's journey that's thrust on her. It doesn't help that her acting is up against Dwight Henry's great turn as Wink. Wink's a determined, angry man who has a brutal streak that threatens to emerge far too often. His unwavering discipleship to self reliance compounded by his own sickness threatens to destroy his daughter's life before it's hardly begun.

There's some good stuff here that underlies the clash of the gleaming future and the messy past that's surely having its effect on the South, and America to an extent. Bathtub has been left behind and revels in it-- a libertarian paradise with no laws or responsibilities. But that becomes a detriment, and Hushpuppy's journey meanders on, dragging the film with her pidgin philosophies to a breaking point. The film's thinly veiled plotting with the titular beasts is similarly tough to muster much enthusiasm for.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a long-winded story that never engages the emotions beyond a base level. It will find many fans, but none here.

Posted by Danny

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