January 20, 2012

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE REVIEWS: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Benh Zeitlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is the kind of movie that makes people wince when they hear “independent film”. A tale, with magical realist overtones, set in the mostly African-American poverty of the Louisiana bayous, it’s narrated by its precocious child protagonist, known as Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis).

Hushpuppy lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in “the Bathtub,” a community formed of discarded cars, trailers and boards. Her mother, much mythologized by Hushpuppy, is dead or gone. When a huge storm hits, the Bathtub is flooded and nearly destroyed, but the inhabitants insist on staying in their battered homes. This, along with Wink’s illness, forms what plot there is to Beasts.

The film is often gorgeously visualized (cinematography by Ben Richardson); remarkably, it’s based by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar on a play by Alibar, but there are no traces of the stage-bound here. There’s also a superb sound design, which is the vehicle used for the most part to convey the storm. The actors, nonprofessionals, seem born to their characters.

A movie like Beasts, reminiscent of art films like David Gordon Green’s George Washington and heavily indebted to Terrence Malick, is hardly multiplex fare, and in truth, it can become sluggish and self-indulgent (Hushpuppy imagines prehistoric aurochs approaching town). It’s the kind of film, though, that Sundance is meant to nurture, an original voice amidst the routine.

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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."