Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The film-festival favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an exercise in magical realism (one of my least favorite genres) about a heroic young black girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives with her ailing father in The Bathtub, a fictional, convex-curving Deep South backwater perpetually threatened with inundation by the fierce storms that ravage the Gulf Coast. Director Benh Zeitlin fills the screen with ugly images: Hushpuppy and her father catching fish with one hand and bashing their heads in with the other; Hushpuppy cooking cat food when they run out of animal meat; a flashback to Hushpuppy’s dead mother shooting an alligator that had crawled out of the swamp and sidled up to her husband. Even if you’re not of the Sally Aminoff school – my friend says she only wants to see “pretty movies about pretty people in pretty clothes” – “Beasts” is unpleasant to watch, which would be fine if it were any good. But despite the formidable presence of newcomer Wallis, it’s not: it’s repetitive and boring and lacking in forward momentum. (It also looks like it was shot through cotton balls.) Zeitlin may fancy himself a modern-day fabulist, but the fabular elements are not woven together in any coherent way. I defy you to explain the moral of this would-be fable without laughing; it’s yet another hackneyed triumph-of-the-human-spirit movie, complete with a score that thunders to a crescendo at the end.

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