I saw 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' at Sundance 2012 when it premiered. It was the talk of the festival. The movie that got all the buzz, and now it's in contention to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It probably doesn't stand a chance against the big names like 'Lincoln' or 'Les Miserables,' but make no mistake, this is one of the most powerful, thought-provoking, life-affirming films of the year.
The movie's power comes from a remarkable performance from Quvenzhané Wallis. Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a girl who live in an island community called the Bathtub, just off the coast of southern Louisiana. Hushpuppy lives there with her father who only casually takes care of her. Because of his neglect she learns to fend for herself in this harsh, unforgiving environment. Watching Wallis navigate the world of acting is a sincere treat. A cinematic treasure, really.
What is 'Beasts' really about? That is left up to the viewer to figure out. It's a film featuring a variety of ambiguous morals. At the center of this story is Hushpuppy. Her powerful resourcefulness drives the film along.
One could argue that 'Beasts' doesn't actually take place in any sort of reality as we know it. I would agree with this sentiment. The film feels more like a gritty fairy tale rather than a true-to-life account of a little girl growing up in poverty.
It's so hard to accurately convey one's feelings about 'Beasts'. I would assume that everyone who sees it will have a completely unique reaction. It's filled with a kinetic energy that's intoxicating and wholly engrossing. Hushpuppy's circumstances are staggering, yet somehow she's able to power through them, coming out the other end with more strength and resolve than most adults.
She's battling numerous problems. Her father is neglectful and may also be too ill to cure. Her mother is nowhere to be found, but she finds herself speaking to her at times. She's resolute in her will to survive and carry on. She takes solace in the past and in the stories she's been told. She's a warrior who doesn't stop fighting.
Director Benh Zeitlin has crafted an indie masterpiece here. Even after multiple viewings the movie still packs the unbelievable punch it had when it first premiered at Sundance almost a year ago. Zeitlin has found a way to pull the audience along without much of a linear timeline or structured plot. Instead he focuses on Hushpuppy and regardless of what's happening around her, she becomes the movie's compass. Follow Hushpuppy, she'll never lead you wrong.
The ending of 'Beasts' is simultaneously bizarre and beautiful. Truthfully, I don't know what it means. I have my own ideas, but I'm sure people will form their own opinions on the matter. That's what a good film does. It makes you think about life. It makes you ponder important questions and discuss it with friends.
I'm still in awe of 'Beasts.' It's almost impossible to convey the movie in standard terms of movie reviewing. This review has been a stream of my thoughts on the film, which seems appropriate, because at times it seems that 'Beasts' is simply a stream of conscious thought produced for the screen. There is a meaning here though, a deep, philosophical one. It's just different for everyone.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Fox Searchlight release comes in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack. The code for the Digital Copy is located on an insert inside. The discs are packaged in an eco-friendly standard keepcase which comes with a slipcover (same artwork as the case). The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc. It's coded for Region A use.
'Beasts' has a unique look because its negative was 16mm film. Inherently with the use of 16mm the 1080p presentation doesn't turn out as crystal clear as many newer films. However, this is the choice of the director and it adds to the overall gritty atmosphere of the Bathtub and its poverty-stricken residents.
There's a heavy use of grain in the movie, which is to be expected. The grain is always stable and makes for a satisfying cinematic experience. Colors are a tad muted and objects are frequently shown out of focus. Detail can be seen when the camera rests upon Wallis' face or on the fur of the Aurochs.
Blacks are deep and inky. Shadows crush detail at times, but that has to do mainly with the thick grain from the 16mm film. Overall, we have a really nice, natural art house movie here. It doesn't look as slick and well-groomed as other brand-new films out there. It doesn't really need to. This Blu-ray release conveys the look and feel the director intended and mirrors the experience I had watching it on the big screen at Sundance.
I'm very impressed by the low-end presence on 'Beasts' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I mean there's a lot of bass in this. A lot! As the Aurochs come rumbling across the land, the bass shakes the sub-woofer. It's an impressive amount of LFE for such a low-budget film.
Dialogue is clear, even though accents are extremely thick and sometimes it's difficult to understand what people are saying. Directional effects, like the movie's one explosion are handled with care and preciseness.
Rear channels are alive with all sorts of birds and bugs that one would hear in the bayou. When Hushpuppy finds herself at a makeshift hospital the milling about of hurricane survivors provides some nicely produced ambient sound. That audio is just as impressive as the video for a low-budget film like this.
'Beasts' is one of the most powerful films you'll see all year, which includes one of the most commanding performances ever given by a child actor. This is a gem of a movie and deserves to be discussed and dissected by those who see it. It will challenge you to think and feel in a way that movies rarely require of their audience. With strong audio and video, along with a wide variety of special features, 'Beasts' comes very highly recommended as one of the year's best films.