Film Review: Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Words: James McLoughlin
Beasts of the Southern Wild rides into the London Film Festival on a tidal wave of critical acclaim and audience gushes, partly due to its star turn by nine year old Quvenzhane Wallis. She alone seems to be generating a feeling and atmosphere of warmth and magic amongst those who see it. A story in which children battle against hardship is always going to go down well but with its magical realism Beasts of the Southern Wild puts poverty and hardship in a particular light, veering dangerously close to a naïve glamorisation.
There’s something about the way in which the film portrays its characters with a doughy-eyed reverence that seems patronising. Their quirks and rituals seen through the eyes of an outsider are just that, quirks and rituals, but there’s something that doesn’t ring true as the camera jaunts around fireplaces and the score twinkles melancholically underneath. Quevenzhane Wallis’s character begs for our affection as she sulks moodily and reveals truths that no one else could because…you know…kids say the funniest things. Her performance deserves every bit of the praise that is being heaped on it but the filmmakers know what they are doing in utilising her talent to manipulate the audience into empathy and a wafer thin level of profundity. The characters aren’t given much space to breathe and generally fill a kind of quota of the characters one might expect to encounter within these communities, each coming with a specific trait, like a kind of superpower.
It’s a film that undoubtedly has the ability to say something profoundly political about communities that are left to fend for themselves and the allusions with hurricane Katrina are clear, however it seems to get lost in highlighting how unique and magical these communities are and ends up saying nothing about why they are marginalised in this way. It’s not enough to point and gawk at people who somehow live on the margin and in a unique way, we have to look out how and why they fit in to the wider picture and where they sit within the context of contemporary America which will in itself saying something politically important. Instead the film invites along as a voyeurs in the story, asking and encouraging us to smile at the magic and wonder of America’s troubled outsiders.