Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Amber Henry, Jonshel Alexander
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Expectations: Moderately high.
I feel like I’m becoming something of a broken record, as I keep going through the “big” 2012 releases and being less than impressed with a good portion of them. It’s these kinds of trends that rattle around in my brain when I’m considering going out to the theater, and that ultimately make me choose to stay home because I’m almost positive that I will be disappointed compared to people’s hype.
Anyway, Beasts of the Southern Wild! There’s a lot going on here, and most of it is under the surface or obscured through symbolism and metaphor. I’m not the brightest bulb in the bunch when it comes to uncovering hidden meanings, so I pondered the mysteries of what it all meant while I watched, and when it was over I was still left with many questions. I have to imagine that many of the disparate ideas and musings on problems both global and personal were to coalesce into meaning at some point, but it all must have gone right over my head.
What didn’t go over my head was the ridiculous handheld camera used throughout the film. I can understand wanting to add some realism to your movie by hopping on the cinema vérité train, hoping to imbue your film with a sense of heightened realism, but some of the camera work is just haphazardly amateurish. There’s no reason for a shot of Quvenzhané Wallis walking through the grass to shake around like she’s in the Blair Witch version of a Guadalcanal battle. These insufferably nauseating moments are then countered by some truly incredible shots and some great depth of color in the photography. I also greatly enjoyed the grainy look to the film, the telltale sign of beautiful, underused 16mm film.
Much has been said of Quvenzhané Wallis’s performance, and it is a great one, especially considering that she was only five years old at the time. But for my money, the real standout here was Dwight Henry as her father. A New Orleans resident and completely untrained as an actor, Henry brings such a raw power and energy to his role. He is immediately believable and riveting to watch, and looking at his IMDB page I’m glad to see that he’s getting some more roles in the future.
Beasts of the Southern Wild reminded me of the films of Terrence Malick, but not nearly as refined or powerful in its imagery. Even if I don’t especially care for Malick’s films, I can definitely respect the craft that goes into them. If first-time director Benh Zeitlin hoped to capture that Malick feel with Beasts of the Southern Wild, then it feels like it would have benefited from some more honing. Of course, I say this after the film was already nominated for four Academy Awards, so what I thought could have been improved, clearly resonated with many others. That’s OK, I’m willing to admit defeat if it’s warranted, and in this case I will say that depending on the types of films you like Beasts of the Southern Wild might just hit you perfectly. It’s a slow-moving, metaphorical drama, which is not something that I’m all that fond of, so it just didn’t do a lot for me. But try it out yourself if it sounds interesting, if for no other reason than to see the great performances of its leads, Quvenzhané Wallis & Dwight Henry.