Sundance 2012: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' is Phenomenal Cinema
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2012
This is it. This is the discovery of Sundance 2012. The film that everyone is going to be talking about after the fest. And it lives up to the hype. But forget about all of that, go see this without knowing anything about it, just that it's phenomenal, and you'll experience it the way all of us did. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin and created by the collective Court 13, is an utterly phenomenal piece cinema, an astounding, mesmerizing, heartbreaking, wonderful adventure taking us to another world, a world set in wet southern Louisiana known as the "Bathtub". This is a film that reminds me why I love cinema so much.
It's hard to even explain the concept of Beasts of the Southern Wild in text and I don't even want to begin to try and explain what the story is about, because it's truly best to experience it yourself. Films like this, that are this extraordinary, don't need any explanation. The film itself is your introduction, it immediately pulls you into the world and introduces you to the characters, all in the way it's made, its stunning visuals; all due to the passion in the filmmaking, the story, the characters, the performances. It focuses on a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father, Wink, who try to survive as the water rises and floods their community at the southern edge America. But it's much, much more than that.
Do you remember a time you saw a film that changed your perspective on movies forever? For me it was Fernando Meirelles' City of God, my experience with it changed the way I viewed films forever. I've always hoped to come across another film that would have this kind of impact on me, and it wasn't until I was watching Beasts of the Southern Wild that I started to get that feeling again. Even just in the opening 10 minutes, with the fireworks-filled introduction to this fascinating "Bathtub" community, I knew it would be something that neared those levels of brilliance. And it does, there's no question about that. I hope, and I believe, it is one of those films that a young cinephile will discover, will watch, and will change them forever, because it has that kind of potential. The score, the lead performance by Quvenzhané, and everything else.
Beasts, as we've affectionately shortened the title to around Sundance, is bold, original, spirited, remarkable filmmaking. It's a combination of excellence in all forms, from its beautiful, brash characters to style to music to believability to community to relationships to emotion, and takes the audience on a journey into "another world" the way all truly phenomenal films do. It's the kind of film that leaves you motionless, in a sense of brilliant awe, when it reaches the end, because it's as if none of what we saw was manufactured, but rather just shown to us, allowing us a glimpse of a genuine story set in a part of Louisiana that could be real.
While there are many films coming out Sundance with a lot of big buzz, this is one of the few that I think not only lives up to that hype, but even surpasses it. Don't build it up too much, don't read any plot details, do your best to go into this with a blank slate, simply ready for a great experience, a captivating story with unforgettable characters. If you enter with that mindset, you will be able to discover this phenomenal film in all of its glory just the way everyone else at Sundance is. And I'm sure many, including myself, are going to go home with a warm spot in their hearts for this absolutely amazing, simply extraordinary, piece of cinema.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 10 out of 10