Beasts of the Southern Wild

by Matt J. Popham

A fascinating, energetic and chaotic mess of a movie celebrating a young girl’s coming-of-age in the poverty-stricken bayous of south Louisiana. Reminiscent of David Gordon Green’s early work, BEASTS plunges head-first into a marginalized strata of American society. But where Green’s dreamy, stylized films could be enigmatic, poetic and, at times, elusive, BEASTS seems scattershot, unfocused and a touch aimless. Moments of human drama pop like fireworks, and thematic ideas about survival, civilization and savagery swarm and flicker like lightning bugs. But rather than exploring them in any profound or satisfactory way, the film instead contents itself with merely plunging its arms into shallow philosophical waters, yanking out idea after idea and knocking them on the head like so many catfish. (What…? I stand by that metaphor…) It’s instructive to learn that the film evolved out of a Sundance workshop and started shooting before the story was finalized or the script was written. BEASTS occasionally feels like a film made in the editing room. “I want to be cohesive,” our young protagonist says at one point, and thanks to Quvenzhané Wallis’ stellar performance, she is. But while the film surrounding her is certainly compelling, evocative, and engrossing, “cohesive” is the one thing it ain’t.

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