The best thing about “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is the casting of an amazing young actress named Quvenzhane Wallis as a character named Hushpuppy, the 6-year-old daughter of an alcoholic father who lives with her amidst the cardboard, makeshift shanties of Southeastern Louisiana. Hushpuppy’s mother is long gone, and her father’s drinking frequently sees him disappear for days at a time.
The area in which they barely survive is called The Bathtub by its poverty stricken, hard-drinking inhabitants. Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, is played by Dwight Henry. The low-budget film was shot with a lot of handheld camera work in the swamps of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Many local inhabitants were used in featured roles, basically playing themselves, and the blend between them and the professional actors works beautifully.
The devastation of hurricane Katrina figures as a major element of the storyline. Hushpuppy is one very self-reliant kid with a very simple philosophy of life and a love of imagery and imagination that helps deflect the ugliness and hopelessness of the world she inhabits. The film also slips in some subtle messages about the environment.
The problem I had with the motion picture was with some unexplained and unreal logistical elements. The kids in this movie swim in deep water a mile or more from shore, hanging from a small flotation device. They seem to move in some magic fashion from land to sea to land and back to The Bathtub. The narration, mostly by Hushpuppy, threads the story along nicely, but still there are far too many holes in the plot that almost sink the movie.
Still, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a brave effort that succeeds on several original, fascinating levels, but finally finishes in a manner that undermines the entire story. Look for young Ms. Wallis again soon in other films. She is a very talented youngster with acting acumen far beyond her years.