Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Benh Zeitlin: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Dwight Henry, Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012.

Corrugating recent national disaster into a Malickian homage narrative, up and coming writer-director Benh Zeitlin delivers a strong debut feature. Beasts of the Southern Wild, a woolly, shaggy dog of a "crowd pleaser" follows Hush-Puppy (a remarkable Quvenzhane Wallis), the handful of a heroine, a child filled with wonder and imagination at the world around her. Having survived Hurricane Katrina with her damaged father (Dwight Henry), Hush-Puppy traipses along side Zeitlin through a narrative of wish, dream, and happenstance.

While it doesn't all work, cast and crew obtain maximum effect from what little production resources they have, which makes it a real indie wunderkind. The cinematography by Ben Richardson is dreamy, assuaging the images to the plot. The voice-over narration is done splendidly; in the key of Malick, it is some of the best children's voice-over narration since David Gordon Green's George Washington, over a decade ago. The acting is naturalistic, while the tone is uneven. At times, the action becomes grating and chaotic, and the director too easily portrays Hush-Puppy in a sentimental light that I didn't care for.

The enchanting drift of a half-realized Southern narrative is refreshing in its signal of a new talent on the rise.

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