Movie Review: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
MOVIE REVIEW: “BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD”
The opening scene in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” begins with great promise. We’re introduced to an enchanting seven-year-old girl, played to perfection by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis. She takes us by the hand on what will be a narrative adventure into her unseen world — the murky backwaters of the Louisiana Bayou. As starting credits rolled, I thought to myself that I was about to experience one of the best films of the year.
Instead, an hour later, I was standing out in the lobby following a walkout.
So — what happened?
Critics have fallen all over themselves in reviews of this film. It’s received almost universal praise – for cinematography, story, performances, and originality.
It’s easy to see why the reviews have been so positive. Indeed, the film is original. It’s emotional. It’s a tremendous cinematic achievement, especially given its low budget ($1.8 million, paltry by Hollywood standards). Filming in a swamp, which is the setting for the entire film, must have been a daunting challenge. Moreover, for a film with no known actors, the performances prove to be not only realistic, but perhaps too convincing for conventional tastes.
So – why did I storm out of this film?
Two words – boredom and annoyance.
This film is a bore. It’s a salty gumbo of Swamp People, Deliverance, and The Jerry Springer Show – only it’s nearly two hours long. Question: Would you want to watch The Jerry Springer Show, with its single-toothed slobs screaming at each other, for two mind-numbing hours? Well, neither would I.
There’s not a single character in this film with any appeal. In the extraordinary annals of cinema history, even thieves and gangsters can elicit sympathy from movie audiences when they are done right. But these horrors of humanity make the Ned Beatty rape scene in Deliverance seem like a Doris Day movie. The entire cast makes trailer trash into The Royal Family.
Alas, every character is a perpetually boozing, ignorant, bore. I’m all for drinking, even to excess, on occasion. But that’s all these people do. One must wonder where these boozers get the money to plow through countless bottles of beer and rock-gut liquor at all hours of the day and night? Drinking money is never is short supply for people who don’t seem to have a single job between them.
It comes as no surprise that the poor little girl’s father (played by Dwight Henry) is an abusive alcoholic. When he’s not plastered or passed out, he’s pounding catfish in the head with his fist or getting sexually aroused when an alligator gets shot (you have to see the scene to believe it). If he loves his daughter, he sure has a strange way of showing it — unless parental care is proven in belting back another swig of moonshine.
The little girl’s mother is no longer around. Maybe she’s deceased, or perhaps she somehow found her way out of the madness. One can only hope.
The rest of the cast is a freak show on the bayou, a motley mix of trashy drunks who don’t seem to have an intelligent or insightful thought between them.
This is the appalling environment that the little girl, nicknamed “Hush Puppy” grows up in.
To make matters worse – much worse – a hurricane is fast approaching.
I realize it’s terribly unfair to judge other people. Some of the least fortunate members of society are simply caught up in circumstances way beyond their control. They have no options. They have no means of escape. Life is but a vicious cycle of poverty abuse, and pain. There are plenty of moving films which effectively capture this despair and elicit great sympathy.
However, “Southern Wilds” is little more than a montage of child abuse, neglect, cruelty to animals, and an utter disdain for any sense of meaning outside of this twisted culture of madness.
Consider that there is not a book, a newspaper or a magazine in any scene. There is not a kind word spoken by anyone, nor to anyone. There is not an intelligent conversation. In short, these people live like wild animals. They are a disgrace.
Although I did not stick around to experience the second half of the film, one can pretty much conclude that Hush Puppy is hopelessly trapped to this life, sentenced to perpetual misery. Sadly, she is undoubtedly capable of so much more. She’s a bright child. She would have a very real future anywhere outside the bayou, but instead is likely chained to a lifetime of ignorance and poverty. Indeed, the horrible tragedy is that people like this really do exist, not just in the bayou — but everywhere.
Amidst the bleakness, the film does have some touching moments. It’s beautifully filmed. Imagery and feel for the bayou is enhanced with just the right musical tone and creative accompaniment. There are frequent flashbacks and visual montages that serve to scaffold Hush Puppy’s emotional and physical desolation. No doubt, this is an intelligently-made film.
Moreover, in any film, it’s refreshing at times to be taken out of one’s recurring comfort zone. I think I’m willing to test myself more than most moviegoers. I’m willing to confront issues which sometime make me uncomfortable. Indeed, I favor movies that challenge me.
And so, I knew going in that this was not going to be a National Geographic feel-good postcard of life from the Louisiana Bayou. But what I watched was neither entertaining nor insightful. It was an annoyance.
I am sure there are people in this world much like the cretins portrayed in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I suppose they are entitled to live their lives on their own terms just as they wish, and they don’t really care about the judgement of outsiders. Fine. Just don’t ask me to pay my money at the box office to see them or try and appreciate their twisted heritage and culture.
Behaving like the dregs of humanity is not something to be proud of. It’s something from which to rise above, and escape. Fortunately, I found my escape about halfway through this dreadfully depressing film.
RATING: WALKED OUT