You can at least expect this much going into Benh Zeitlin's drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, you'll be introduced to a place that you've never seen before and you'll be entranced by how a handful of people can survive living this way in the environment that they are in. That level of fascination with this part of the world that we never thought we'd see is truly one of the film's best qualities. I just thought that the rest of this film seemed to be missing something in its story to make it interesting enough overall.
Beasts of the Southern Wild centers on a five-year-old African-American girl (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her ill yet hostile father (Dwight Henry) who try to brave through a big storm coming to where they live in the isolated place known as the "Bathtub". Why is the place they call home called the "Bathtub"? Well, these two along with a handful of other folks are cut off from the main land of Louisiana by a dam. But these people aren't willing to give up their homes yet and fend off any help from the mainland by sticking together and securing their territory. While that is taking place, a bunch of enormous hogs/"beasts" who have been frozen for many years thaw out and eventually roam towards their land. No, I swear I am not making that last sentence up.
As you can tell from the plot synopsis, this film is definitely an artsy-fartsy type of flick and either you like this picture a lot or you simply think it's too needlessly weird. Unfortunately, I think this film is a tad too needlessly surreal. However, there are two things about this film that I do admire. One is that the very young kid who plays the main character was able to live up to the task of leading the film and successfully pull it off. After all, I don't think I could ever recall meeting any young child who behaved similarly to the child in this film.
Another thing that I admire about the film is once again the environment it introduces us to. Imagine trying to live one day in these characters shoes. Imagine not being able to shop for produce at a grocery store and instead produce whatever food you need where you live. Imagine living on land surrounded by water and that land being flooded. Imagine how they navigate through the water or land they are near. I know those are living conditions that I couldn't fathom the idea of living the way they do. It's very interesting to see that being put on screen.
The reason I just couldn't warm up to this picture I guess is because I had trouble figuring out what direction this story wanted to go. Though they do connect the story of our main characters to the "beasts" roaming the land, in the end, the film simply could have been better off without that sidetrack with the "beasts" since it doesn't pay off that well for my taste. For that matter, I felt like I barely knew anything about the characters in this film at all. I just didn't really feel like anything about these people were really that special or interesting enough. As a result of this underdeveloped aspect, we don't really know what kind of cause these people are fighting for or even if it's worth all the trouble.
I think the reason why I'm reacting harshly to the film's usage of these beasts and the underdeveloped individuals in it is because I feel that Benh Zeitlin's direction is pretty weak since it's doesn't give me a clue regarding what it's supposed to be about. Is it a controversial statement to leave people on islands alone? Is it a coming-of-age story for the main character and her ill father? Is it trying to tell us that we will undergo an ice age like the dinosaurs? Basically, the film is claiming its one thing, but it suddenly becomes the opposite. Either I had no idea what mindset I'm supposed to be in when watching this or the film is simply confused in its storytelling.
Regardless, Beasts of the Southern Wild just isn't my type of film as it is. Maybe if the film had a more clear idea of what it wanted to be, I might have appreciated the skill behind it more. Maybe if it didn't throw in certain themes that feel useless to the film's main plot and if it gave us a better idea about who these people are, I might have been more interested in the story being told. In the end, the film as a whole is definitely an acquired taste.