Beasts Of The Southern Wild - Blu-ray Review

'Indignant Hushpuppy pouts with the bubbling anger of a wronged society. A society which functions despite its apparently dishevelled appearance and which successfully crosses gender and race divides.'

Essentially a fable – the titular beasts rush from polar ice melt to destroy the lives of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis) and her father (Dwight Henry) – Beasts Of The Southern Wild is not a film that bothers to hide its message deep within subtext. There’s an emotional and environmental beat to Benh Zeitlin’s film, a beat emanating from a heart worn very much on its sleeve.

At times, that is both Beasts’ strength and its weakness. Indignant Hushpuppy pouts with the bubbling anger of a wronged society. A society which functions despite its apparently dishevelled appearance, which successfully crosses gender and race divides and which has ‘more holidays than the whole rest of the World’. Dan Romer and Zeitlin’s incredible score doesn’t just tell you how to feel at any given moment but burrows into your head, goes deeper, and begins plucking at actual heart strings. If it wasn’t so lovely it would be annoying, such is the way of the entire thing.

The problems really only come to the surface noticeably when key elements like the score and Hushpuppy’s rage stop being the focal point. Zeitlin’s narrative is ramshackle at best and unfocused at worst. His key message is so clear and centralised that the actual story gets little craft and even less well worked development. A late pivot in how we view the beasts and their ‘mirrors’ is a case in point: it shows just how well thought out and forward-thinking his eco-argument is but there’s little echo of it elsewhere and the genesis and interplay from fable to coming-of-age story rings false.

In that regard, Zeitlin almost deserves every inch of his Best Director Oscar nomination. As a film-maker, the decision to sacrifice story for method and message is not only a brave one but a difficult one to carry out without plenty of commitment and – that most loaded of words – vision. Zeitlin has both with abundance but Beasts suffers at the hands of his crafting choices, brave though they may be.

Fellow nominee Wallis is every inch the deserving awards contender. Her lilting narration is powerful and driven and her on-screen performance balances innocence and all-knowing characterisation well. Henry fares less well on occasion but he has arguably the tougher job. Both could do with more support. Any side player who does arrive seems to be paid a similar amount of lip service as the story is, before they shuffle off for elongated periods. Again, it's a clear choice from Zeitlin to leave us in these two's company so often but, like the narrative, a greater range of focus may have produced a more satisfying feeling come the triumphal finale.

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