Beasts of the Southern Wild was my fifth Best Picture nominated movie I saw and as I compared it with the previous four (Amour, Argo, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook) where three have the highest rating, Beasts fell a bit short. That being said, there were some amazing elements, for instance Quevenzhané Wallis’ performance, which she nabbed when she was just 5 years old, that held the movie together with its unique script and storytelling ability.
It may seem that I liked Beasts of the Southern Wild a lot more than the rating represents but actually, it’s all a bit confusing to me as well. While the performance of Wallis as Hushpuppy (adorable name) had so much power and strength and the script supported that, the whole package was a bit rough around the edges. Which is understandable because this is Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film and getting it perfect the first time around isn’t always the case. He is up against some big Hollywood names in his category and his win would definitely be a surprise, but I feel that he has some room to grow as a director. That being said, his movie is a lot better than some mediocre blockbusters with more experienced directors!
The movie is about Hushpuppy, a strong child living with his father Wink (Dwight Henry) who happens to be a drunk and on top of that, ill. They live in a place called the Bathtub with all these other crazy looking swamp people that are far from boring. Living conditions of the Bathtub are definitely not acceptable and while the kids still go to some sort of a school establishment, the story the “teacher” tells them brings to the surface the main plot: there are threats their home is facing. Flood and Ice Age monsters, and no, not those animated animals every kid loves but real monsters. Therefore the premises of the movie is quite interesting and far from an average plot which is definitely something to give praise for, as is the rest of the script for its interesting writing.
One of the rough parts for me with Beasts of the Southern Wild was its raw camera work. And before you start yelling that it was the point, it was for a reason, it added context – I’ll stop you right there and say that I understand the additional meaning via camera work well, but this time it was not the case. I myself have trouble with my eyes a bit, I need glasses while watching a movie and even with them, my eyes were a bit tired by the end of Beasts because the fast changing focus and raw movement made it difficult to apprehend the imagery. While my dislike might be strongly influenced by my weak eyesight, the rawness felt a bit amateurish. I admit, I like clean and focused and sharp imagery, which Beasts was not aiming at per say and yet, it had its cinematography moments but in the end though, the camera work felt to be the movie’s weak spot.
Another aspect that I shortly mentioned previously was the story line of the monsters. As I was explained and as I assumed a bit myself, the monsters represented fears Hushpuppy was faced with and as her father’s death came closer and closer, the monsters did as well. Symbolism – check, cool looking animated monsters – check, their necessity 100% explained – not really. What makes me wonder is the fact if those monsters were a part of the original material and if not, was their present influenced by Zeitlin’s own background as an animator? The reason why I question these things is that I question the actual usage of the monsters but not in a totally bad way. I understand their meaning and point but I kind of hoped it all to be more thought trough, with a bit more precision, so that their presence would be completely understandable. And by precision, I don’t mean their actual physical look, but the usage and presentation of them in the movie.
That being said, Beasts was indeed an interesting experience and what surprises me the most, is to see such a raw movie in the list of nominations. It is certainly a surprise, not necessarily a bad one but a good one – about time Academy gave a nod to something a bit different than the big historical productions with all around known names. That is actually why I liked Beasts as well, the fact that Wallis and Henry were completely faceless with both of them acting in their first ever feature film. I’m also glad that they both already have a job lined up with Steve McQueen, where BIG names take part in – for those two, I can just imagine the excitement. And good for them, acting in those conditions looked as if they were living in those conditions! The part about living in the swamp would lead to a long discussion on society and so on but frankly, I don’t have the energy to go into all of that. Therefore, Beasts of the Southern Wild could have been wrapped up a bit more neatly but despite of that, the movie was still enjoyable and at times, brilliantly presented.