In Benh Zeitlin‘s “Beasts of the Southern Wild“, we are introduced to Quvenzhané Wallis, one of the most fearless newcomers to come out of Cannes this year. The film debuted at this year’s Sundance film festival to rave reviews, winning the Grand Jury prize and it has been with anticipation that we have waited to see Wallis’ performance ourselves.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” tells the tale of Hushpuppy, a six year old girl living in a forgotten but resilient bayou community, cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. Her mother left years before, and her father is a drunk who doesn’t know what to do with a young daughter, treating her as a boy, asking her to “show me your guns!” When a savage storm hits them, and unleashes the titular ‘Beasts’, they must all do what they can to remain together, but Hushpuppy begins to see her natural order fall around her, as her desire for a mother and her father’s ailing condition begins to affect them all.
Shot in the shaky hand-cam style so popular right now, screenwriters Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar have successfully adapted the stage play “Juicy and Delicious” into a tense film, but one full of joy, with gorgeous imagery that seems to have emerged from the minds of children themselves.
The opening scenes are silent but affecting, as we see Hushpuppy and her father (played by another unknown actor Dwight Henry) living seemingly separate lives, in separate trailers with a bell system connecting them for dinner times, before it breaks into a glorious scene filled with fireworks and haunting music that captures straight away the fact that the two of them may appear as alone but are actually part of a wider community.
Later in the film, Hushpuppy wanders a nightclub searching for her mother, finding someone with eyes just like hers, someone who dishes out no nonsense advice on life before holding her and dancing. It is a scene fraught with emotion, and Wallis is mesmerizing to watch, pulling off in “Beasts” a performance that any seasoned actor would dream of.