Friday, January 18, 2013

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)

In running down a list of 2012’s Best Picture nominees, “Beasts” may have been the wrong place to start. At least the Oscars are sticking with their tradition of not picking the best sampling of films for the year.

That is not to say that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is bad. It is competently shot and a creative piece of storytelling. It just fails to connect. It could be due to the distracting hand held camera work. Sure, it was done intentionally and for good reasons—it still takes one out of the story. Or maybe that is where the problem lies. The story here is underdeveloped and told in a meandering way that ultimately feels as if it doesn’t know what it wants to do.

The biggest disappointment for this reviewer was the way that “Beasts” lets the genre down. I am a big fan of Magic Realism, but here it feels like the filmmakers didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. The magical elements never feel as though they are really happening. It is more as though the magic here is all in Hushpuppy’s mind. She is taking the things here 6 year old mind has understood about the world and imagining that they are real. That is not quite the same thing as magical things actually occurring. When she hears thunder, she understands it to be the ice caps melting, for example. Even when she sees the beasts late in the film, there is no reason to assume that they are anything more than something she is imagining.

Some speak of the uplifting depiction that this film is for the poor and downtrodden. I would beg to differ. It feels more like a sad portrayal of despondent people wallowing in their despondency. There a many better examples of “poor” indigenous civilizations depicted in art that expose the western understandings of wealth and happiness as being false. This case in particular is very unconvincing.

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