Sundance 2012 Review: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

‘It’s the Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close of Hurricane Katrina.’

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


I would not have picked Beasts of the Southern Wild as the big hit and hot buy of Sundance had I seen it on day one. As far as buzz contrarianism goes, I liked this even less than Safety Not Guaranteed.

It’s pretty much all the things that annoy me in “important” movies. There’s a tragedy, an issue, a disaster, a kid through whose innocent eyes we see the aforementioned. HushPuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in a Bayou-like wilderness, raising and eating her own animals with her father Wink (Dwight Henry). When a flood comes, the community works together to survive and keep up spirits, and Wink gets sick and it’s so empowering that she can persevere.

First of all, the camerawork is atrocious. We’re all used to shaky cam hand held, but this is just masturbatory intentional artifice. Director Ben Zeitlin has D.P. Ben Richardson shake the frame from left to right just because. It makes the entire movie look totally amateur, despite some somewhat impressive locations and sets.

I’m kind of not into the world of this movie to begin with, so it didn’t win me over. Even though the culture of the flood survivors is nice, I’m just not interested. All the hooting and hollering and whooping is just loud. They’re all dirty in tank tops with their armpit hair sticking out and slobbering crawfish and crab. I’m sorry, that’s gross.

So obviously this is a metaphor for Katrina, and if it wasn’t, then Zeitlin really messed up. It’s a relevant portrait but the tone is so pandering. It’s the Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close of Hurricane Katrina. Look how empowered a little girl can be. Look how bad it gets and they stay strong. The FEMA hospital patients become a metaphor for the animals in cages. Come on. At least the kid doesn’t suck in this.

The suggestions that this is a fantasy movie are vastly exaggerated. There are touches of imagination but that’s more of a subjective touch than a genre one. So Hushpuppy’s mom can light the stove with her beauty and the creatures are big. That’s Hushpuppy’s point of view, not an alternate reality. But the whole movie is too much of a mess for it to be effective.

I suspect there’ll be a second opinion review of this when Fox Searchlight puts it out in theaters. I’ve just got to be me and I don’t go for this.

CraveOnline Rating: 3/10