A wholly original response to Hurricane Katrina, combining gritty naturalism and Southern mysticism in a child’s-eye view of physical and cultural survival in the swamps of a Louisiana bayou, this surprisingly uplifting debut feature from Benh Zeitlin celebrates the courage of those living on the margins where community spirit retains a meaning lost to mainstream society.
Venturing beyond the levee wall in the opening scenes to an uninhabitable region sinking in water that cannot escape, there is a sense of discovering a mysterious territory in some remote part of the third world. This is an area that the state government has sacrificed as being beyond civilisation, where the animals, plants and other organisms adapt to the unnaturally harsh terrain or die. It is a backwater in both meanings of the word and, yet, a stubborn group of outsiders have defied the law and human endurance and settled in this place that they call the Bathtub and intend to stay.
Hushpuppy, a six-year old free spirit largely left to her own resources, becomes our guide with a voice over that in its deceptive innocence and deadpan delivery takes us back to Terrence Malick’s ‘Badlands’. Learning a thing or two from the master, these quasi-reflections are sometimes at odds with the visual images, opening a wonderful textual fissure ripe for Southern myth-making that goes beyond the control of the filmmaker. She introduces us to her ailing father, Wink, who does not seem long for this world and the rickety floating shakes and makeshift rafts that form the mainstay of her world. And then the storm arrives, a deluge of biblical proportions that gives rise to Romantic notions of man v nature – this is the stuff of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa – and confrontation with the authorities trying, so they think, to save the settlers from themselves.
An already dire reality takes on an altogether more terrifying dimension in Hushpuppy’s vivid imagination, where pre-historic aurochs – here conceived as gigantic wild boars – charge across the earth’s surface destroying everything in their wake, seemingly heralding the start of the apocalypse. It is a vision that the Bathtub’s only school teacher has encouraged with prophetic notions of global warming spreading like a cancer, already beyond our sway, and providing a very real context to Katrina.
Newcomer, Quvenzhané Wallis is wholly convincing playing Hushpuppy, confronting the world with a semi-fierce standpoint that falls between Wink’s ongoing survival course style of parenting and the softer nurturing of the spirit of her dead mother, who appears when the balance between the two needs resetting.
Dwight Henry, a baker taking a break from the day job, also impresses as the tough fisherman drinking large quantities of cheap alcohol to get through the day without losing a grip on his moral compass.
Talk of the festival season, Beasts of the Southern Wild has already won multiple awards, including the grand jury prize at Sundance, and seems set to be the latest low budget indie feature – it was made for just $1.8m – to make an impression at the Oscars, at least in the best actress category. There will be no such success, though, in the Screen Actors Guild awards where rules surely intended for much higher budgets preclude it from competing after the non-professional actors’ pay fell foul of their minimum requirement.doxycycline costdoxycycline genericbuy doxycycline ukdoxycycline buy