Beasts of the Southern Wild - a stunning, magical film debut

Oct 19, 2012

Eco-fantasy film inspired by the Katrina disaster and made with non-professional actors wows critics

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What you need to know
American fantasy film, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a debut feature film for New York director co-writer Benh Zeitlin based on a
one-act play Lucy Alibar. It won a Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.

Set in the fictional Bayou community of Bathtub, in the American south, on an island surrounded by rising waters, it tells the story of
a girl called Hushpuppy. When her father's illness, a storm and ancient beasts threaten to destroy her world, she must use her
survival skills and imagination to avert catastrophe.

Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis stars as six-year-old Hushpuppy. Dwight Henry, a non-professional actor, plays her father Wink. Many of the cast are local residents from Montegut, Louisiana, where the film was shot.

What the critics like
Few American debuts in recent years have announced a talent as singular and blazingly gifted as Benh Zeitlin, says Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph. This "spectacular plunge into magic realism" bustles with ideas, resplendent visuals and a battered yet proud humanity. "Simply unmissable."

Beasts is slow-building, deeply moving, lyrical and otherworldly, says Kate Muir in The Times. While this Katrina-inspired tale of ecological disaster may sound tough, the beauty of the disappearing landscape and the courage of Hushpuppy is "extraordinarily uplifting".

It's a beautiful, funny, timely and tender film, says Damon Wise in Empire, with two astonishing performances. Henry is especially
convincing as the unsentimental Wink, while Wallis holds her own as an intrepid, shock-haired tomboy. This is "the American arthouse movie of the year".

What they don't like
This ripe and gamey piece of apocalyptic Southern Gothic is poetic and flawed, says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Clearly  inspired by the films of Terence Malick, at times it can be self-conscious and sentimental in a way Malick isn't. Nevertheless, Bradshaw gives the film four stars and calls Zeitlin's ambition and verve "really exhilarating".

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