“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is not about some African country; it is about a southern Louisiana delta community. People living on the water in all sorts of shacks, some without electricity or bathrooms, and raising their own chickens and pigs but not vegetables. A tight community of drinkers, smokers, and misfits, all looking out for each other.
Hushpuppy (extraordinary Quvenzhane Wallis) is a six-year-old girl with fire, grit, determination, and imagination. Wink (Dwight Henry) is her mean, drunkard father, who becomes very ill after a big storm causes flooding throughout the delta. Several of the residents, including Wink and Hushpuppy, refuse to be evacuated and, after the flooding, they refuse to be sheltered or cared for.
Wink and Hushpuppy explore the area, rescue friends, and catch fish in their “boat,” a floating truck bed with a sputtering motor. Then they all help build a large one-room shelter to await the water’s recession together. There are five or six adults and five or six children, few related, crammed together with enough water, crawfish, and catfish to survive until the water goes down and they can move back to where they used to live. However, after a few days, the men decide to blow up a levy so the water will recede faster. Dead animal bodies and lots of garbage are revealed, a wasteland visible to all, including Hushpuppy. Her world has changed, again.
During this time, Wink becomes ill and is hospitalized. Left on her own, Hushpuppy decides to search for her absent mother and enlists three older girlfriends, all of whom appear parentless. She leads them out into the open water with one life ring between them. A tug boat picks them up and sets them down upon a floating casino/dancehall, where they might find their mothers. That does not happen, but they are fed and comforted for a few hours by the women who work there.
Throughout the film, Hushpuppy has been trying to understand life and imagining her world turning upside down in the form of melting glaciers and huge beasts coming after her. (Her struggles and self-awareness are hard to take at times.) When she arrives back at Wink’s bedside, she silently confronts the “beasts” and they back away. She will survive and hopefully thrive on her own, as an orphan in the delta, the only place she’s ever known.
Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars.