Beasts of the Southern Wild

Rated 5.0

This magical little production, filmed in southern coastal locations on a miniscule budget with a cast of non-professionals, is a contemporary folk tale of an extraordinarily charming and compelling sort. The setting is the “Bathtub,” a stark little stretch of swampy beach land on the wrong side of the levee somewhere southwest of New Orleans. The human population is a ragtag bunch of strays living among a miscellany of small animals in make-shift housing. These daunting circumstances are viewed in terms both gritty and wondrous by the film’s little heroine, an earthy 6-year-old named Hushpuppy whose visionary perceptions emerge in disarmingly matter-of-fact form. The film has an open-air documentary look to it, thanks in part to Ben Richardson’s fine, flavorsome 16mm cinematography. But Zeitlin also blends in some modest but effective CGI effects, chiefly in giving form to aurochs, the mythical beasts who appear in Hushpuppy’s most powerful visions. There are some stand-alone dramatic incidents—residents of the Bathtub refusing mainland society’s offerings and Hushpuppy’s sojourn among the prostitutes operating offshore in the “Floating Catfish Shack”—but Hushpuppy’s precocious musings remain the central force in the film. Little Quvenzhané Wallis is a stunningly credible presence in the Hushpuppy role, and Dwight Henry is no less persuasive as her devoted but erratic and ailing father, Wink. Pageant Theatre and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.