Sundance 2012 Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

This review will be difficult to write.  It’s easy to write about cookie cutter movies, their flaws, their lack of imagination, and what they could have done better.  But here, you have such an original and unique vision, it’s almost like you’re watching a new genre of film for the very first time.  The typical review of a film that doesn’t follow any of the normal rules of a typical movie just doesn’t work here.

Point blank, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a modern day masterpiece.

I haven’t been this exhilarated by a film in a long time.  But like I said, it’s not because this film followed all the “rules” in such a perfect fashion.  It’s more like this film created all new rules and just, in essence, reinvented the idea of what a film can be.  I know this isn’t something that will translate into words easily, which is exactly why I said this wouldn’t be an easy review to write.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is more like experiencing a dream.  It’s like leaving your body and meandering through the ether of a consciousness that we didn’t even know existed.  I don’t care if this doesn’t make sense to you right now, but trust me, after you watch it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  The brilliance showcased here will leave you absolutely floored.

The story revolves around a six-year old girl named HushPuppy who lives in her own shack alongside her father, Wink (who lives in an adjacent shack) out in the walled-off swamp areas of a not-too-distant future Louisiana.  Their back-to-the-basics shantytown is called “the bathtub” for the fact that as the polar ice caps are melting, the water level is rising.  They all know that soon their town will be completely underwater, but this town is full of strong souls that won’t leave their roots.  This is their home, and no matter what, they’ll never leave and go to the other side of “the wall”, the large levee protecting the civilized world from the rising waters.

But regardless of the people, the town, her father, or even the parallel story of ancient prehistoric monsters called Aurochs that have been thawed from the melting ice caps and are on their way toward the bathtub (yes, you heard that right)… this is HushPuppy’s story. Her personal and physical journey is the centerpiece, and complete purpose, of this film.  And she is the absolute top reason on a long list of reasons to experience this film.  Possibly in the history of moviemaking, I’ve never seen a child performance such as this.  You forget that she is six years old.  She is an old soul and an absolutely remarkable force of nature.

Speaking of the performances, one thing that should be noted is that NONE of the actors in the film were professional actors.  These are simply real people that had never acted a day in their life.  The reality created because of this is just one more reason this film is such a unique and incredible creation.  Another reason I have to mention is all about the music.  The score is absolutely phenomenal.  It drives you.  It pulls you in.  It’s not just there.  It’s like the pulse of film.  It’s just… gut wrenchingly beautiful.

Now, I know I may be wandering around in my review, telling pieces of the story, the characters, the land, the music, etc, etc, etc, but that’s what this film does to you.  Just like waking from an incredible dream, experiencing it is transcendent and amazing.  But as soon as you begin to try and tell someone about it, you start to fumble your words.  Dreams are meant to be experienced, not read about.  And Beasts of the Southern Wild is exactly the same way.  It’s something you simply need to experience.  I loved it so much I just can’t use my favorite tool of language to give it the tiniest bit of justice.  Just let the film do that.

When it hits your theaters (and it will because Fox Searchlight picked it up at the festival for a huge sum), please, do yourself a favor and enter this truly unique and original vision.  And we can finally have a way for all of us to experience the same incredible dream.

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