You may not recognize the name Hushpuppy or yet identify with the scrappy survivors of the Louisiana delta community known as the “bathtub”, but that is about to change, as the Sundance sensation BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD hits theaters this week. Distributor Fox Searchlight is predicting that the metaphysical tale will become the indie must-see of the year and that the micro-budgeted film can even find a berth in awards season later this year. That is certainly the hope, but it remains to be seen if the film’s lack of star names and its magic realist style goes beyond the hardcore art film crowd to more mainstream success. There is no question that the debut film of Louisiana native Benh Zeitlin created a major stir at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and a special award for its cinematography (the film also won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival). Film critics who were languid about the Festival’s offerings went rapturous over the spectacular imagery and shrewd mix of realism and hyper-fantasy in this moody, vividly-captured portrait of life in a Southern delta subculture.
The film follows a young girl named Hushpuppy, who lives with her father, Wink, and the rest of the collective in a bayou known as “The Bathtub.” Shacked up in homes built from found objects, the community relishes the lush, natural environment of the region and their high-spirited libertarian lifestyles. But like all paradises, things eventually take a turn for the worse. Wink is stricken with a crippling blood disease, while a storm (shades of Hurricane Katrina) threatens to inundate the islands and wipe out the countercultural community. While introducing otherworldly landscapes and eventual mythical creatures, the film never loses touch with its realist roots. Credit must be given to the previously unknown actress Quvenzhané Wallis, who portrays the lead with a mix of spunk and vulnerability that is fascinating in its breadth and realism. This is one of those characters, once met, that you cannot get out of your system.
The film offers many mesmerizing and striking sequences and grabs hold of audiences with a tremendous force. And at the core of this unusual father/daughter story is an unfettered love and devotion that may be the lynchpin that will allow the film to be embraced as a family film with its own set of traditional values. Whether it becomes a wide enough hit or not does not take away the fact that Zeitlin and his crew have crafted a riveting, pure piece of cinema. To view a trailer and get more information, visit: http://www.welcometothebathtub.com/