Newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis in a scene from 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.'
Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a strange and magical tale about survival and the inhabitants of a place called The Bathtub.
The story is told through the eyes of a motherless child named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives with her father (Dwight Henry) in a falling-down trailer. Hushpuppy communicates with the animals around her and doesn't seem to need people much, which is good, as her father is often sick, away or otherwise occupied.
The Bathtub, if you had to describe it, would appear to be that New Orleans community on the wrong side of the levee. The people who live in The Bathtub are the old, the poor, and the disenfranchised -- all of them friends to Hushpuppy and her father -- and their community is a collection of wrecked buildings always under threat of being submerged. They are tough and resourceful people in The Bathtub, and they take care of each other. One of the movie's prettiest (and perhaps most ironic) scenes is a Fourth of July celebration, with Hushpuppy surrounded by fireworks.
Hushpuppy has an idea of what keeps the universe humming along, and she fears any tiny change that could alter things. Those changes do come, however, and so she imagines a group of ferocious creatures getting ever-closer to her home. The story captures perfectly how large the world looms to children.
For comfort, Hushpuppy puts an old shirt of her missing mother's on a chair, and speaks to her mother as if she were still at home.
When a storm strikes The Bathtub and crisis follows, Hushpuppy and her neighbours find themselves taken into the environment on the other side of the levee. They are strangers in a strange world now. Her father's sickness eventually forces Hushpuppy to go on a boat journey in hopes of finding her mother.
Beasts Of A Southern Wild is quite unlike anything else at the movies. The story creates a whole new world and invites you in; people have been happy to oblige ever since the film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and the Camera d'Or for best first film at Cannes. It's a stunning movie, filled with unusual images and completely engaging characters, chief among them the child actress Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy.
You'll want to learn how to pronounce that in time for the Academy Awards: Quvenzhane is pronounced "kwa VAN ja nay", and thanks to Roger Ebert for that.