Everything about Beast of the Southern Wild exists in another world. While in reality the film was shot in the swamps of Louisiana a mere few hundred miles from FPH world headquarters, BOTSW could very well have been made in an alternative universe. One where prehistoric beasts are unfrozen from their Antarctic graves, one where feral humans live in alcoholic squalor without mailboxes, one where education includes whipsmart school marms with sassy mouths as well as a close proximity to nature.
Beasts is told through the eyes of precocious six-year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, herself a force of nature), one of the remaining Delta denizens who live in a backwater community located partially on land, partially on water. Most of the people have some kind of boat or in the case of Hushpuppy’s dad a tricked out buoyant rear bed from a pick-up. Is what we are seeing what is actually happening or is it reality filtered and biased through Hushpuppy’s imagination? Beasts of the Southern Wild joins a short list of narrative films that unwind in a dream state although the spine differs from films like Tree of Life or Uncle Boonmee. Whatever one comes away from Beasts thinking it’s certain that the film puts Wallis and director Benh Zeitland on the map.
Make no mistake; you will not see a film as unique as Beasts of the Southern Wild playing at the local megaplex (the film opens exclusively at the River Oaks Three). This is art cinema at its most elegant, striped of normal conventions and populated by authentic backwoods swamp people. Much of the latter part of Beasts deals with natural disasters a la Katrina, although this too is an element that serves the temper of the script, as opposed to making a polemic statement.
In some ways Beasts of the Southern Wild reminds me of two films it has absolutely nothing in common with: Southern Comfort and The Wizard of Oz. The former film (d. Walter Hill) depicts a National Guard squad that becomes lost in the Louisiana swampland and subject to attack from local Cajuns. TWOO comes to mind because just like Hushpuppy instinctively knows, there’s no place like home.
— Michael Bergeron