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Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Blu-ray Review)

I originally went into Beasts of the Southern Wild with no idea as to what I was going to see. I had only heard about it being very well received at Sundance and Cannes, but little in the way of what the film was actually about. Vague descriptions used key words like “fantasy” and “Katrina”, but I still did not have much of an “in”, before sitting in my seat getting to watch the film for myself. To my delight, ‘Beasts’ turned out to be one of the most unique films I have seen this year. With elements of Spielberg and Terry Gilliam, combined with the use of a sort of documentary-style grittiness, the film is creative, affecting, and nontraditional in many ways. ‘Beasts’ deals with what it takes to be a survivor and how to handle grief, but serves as a fable of sorts as well, with a great performance from the young girl at the center of the story. Now it is available on Blu-ray, which provides a small peak behind the curtain of this magical film.

Film:

I should go easy on describing the plot, but I can delve into some aspects. The film revolves around the journey of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a six-year-old girl who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a community known as “the Bathtub”, located in the southern Delta area of Louisiana. Told from the perspective of Hushpuppy, she has had to learn how to deal with growing up fairly alone, as her father appears to be having issues (which extends beyond his tough love approach to raising Hushpuppy). At the same time, a storm arrives, which pretty much decimates the community of the Bathtub. With this new development, Hushpuppy must deal with the struggle of a number of things in her life, including a fantastical aspect that involves her imagination manifesting creatures known as the aurochs.

This film is visually arresting. I have stated that the story is told from Hushpuppy’s perspective, but that is made quite clear in the way the camera constantly takes focus from her position. We get to see all that she believes is happening, which makes the way the storm occurs all the more sensationalized, given how Hushpuppy’s logic melds into what she believes is happening. Given that this is most certainly a low budget, independently made feature, it gives a chance for the filmmakers to really be creative when it comes to handling so much of the vision they strove for with this film.

Additionally, as we are seeing much of the film through Hushpuppy’s eyes, we get to observe the community of the Bathtub and take in all that comes with it. People are basically poverty-stricken, but they do not see it that way. This is a close group of people that have their own way of functioning in life. Ramshackle houses and a very specific type of transportation for Wink and Hushpuppy are detailed enough for us to want to reflect on societal differences, but the film is not necessarily judging this. Instead, writer/director Benh Zeitlin and his crew have created a very specific look for the Bathtub and the way we are meant to see it. I can imagine this scenery provoking different reactions from different audiences, but the film has a good handle on what is supposed to be tragic and what can be observed with a hint of a smile.

While the cinematography was my favorite aspect of this film, the very strong lead performances definitely helped the film as well. As Hushpuppy, Wallis is given the task of playing quite the difficult role for a character so young. It is rare to observe a strong screen presence from a character like this that does not revolve around their precociousness or inherent cuteness. Instead, we have a young girl who is already dealing with unique living arrangements and is forced to deal with some heavy drama in her life at a young age. Having Dwight Henry as her father (both of these people are non-professional actors, by the way), the film settles into a strong relationship story, with Wink essentially passing on the concept of being resilient in a harsh reality, through the use of seemingly rough behavior. Somewhat akin to how I saw Brad Pitt’s role as the father in last year’s Tree of Life, Wink seems like he could be a difficult man, but he clearly loves his child while also needing to be domineering. The fact that Hushpuppy has an idea of what is going, which involves a certain inevitable situation, makes it work that much better.

One can address the background commentary as well, but I do not see it as necessary. Similar to the way various films have used 9/11 as a backdrop to their story (and I’m speaking of the good ones, 25th Hour comes to mind), Beasts of the Southern Wild may have ties to the events that followed Hurricane Katrina, but it is not the film’s focus and did not feel to have a hidden agenda as far as I was concerned. The film is a strong representation of a child’s view of life, relationships, and tragedy, and it uses unconventional filmmaking techniques to have that all come through. There is a level of weirdness to it that I appreciated, but also a lot of intriguing aspects that kept me involved with the film, whether it is due to the plot, the characters, or the visual construction. It is an indie that very much underlines the concept of interesting filmmaking being an enjoyable experience.

Video:

I loved the look of Beasts of the Southern Wild overall and it looks very good on Blu-ray. This 1080p AVC-encoded transfer does a fine job of showing off the unique cinematography and manages to make the film quite watchable, given the gritty nature of its independent roots. There is certainly a level of grain just given the budget and overall aesthetic of the film in general, but the Blu-ray is still as clean as it seems it could be. The transfer does justice to the film. The details are there, the look of the Bathtub is quite specific to begin with, so the tones and textures appear fittingly, based on how it was made, and the colors used are clear enough. Things in the film may be quite dirty, but the Blu-ray certainly is not.

Audio:

Given that I still consider the score for Beasts of the Southern Wild to be one of the best of the year, I was really happy with the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track fitted onto this Blu-ray. The score is such a great blend of styles, so it is nice to have it register so clearly in my home theater system. Similarly, the rest of the sounds and dialogue in this film is quite well-handled on this Blu-ray. The sound effects of everything that occurs in the Bathtub is important, so it is nice that the mixing was so well done. The dialogue is loud and clear as well, even as the various accents and words may be so different for outsiders. It’s really a great audio track for this film overall.

Extras:

Given the nature of this film, I was surprised there was as much as there was in the supplements section. I would have liked more, say a commentary, but getting some audition footage and a peak behind the scenes did add to the experience. Also cool was getting the whole short film that director Behn Zeitlin made before ‘Beasts’. It’s a nice little collection of extras.

Features Include:

The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild – More than just a standard EPK, because it lasts over twenty minutes and does a decent enough job of exploring a lot of aspects about the film in a short amount of time.

Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Behn Zeitlin – A handful of scenes that are nice, but deleted for obvious reasons.

Auditions – It was really cool to see this process in action.

Music Featurette – A look at the design of the score for the film.

The Aurochs Featurette – For those that see the film, they will really enjoy this making-of.

Glory at Sea – The short film by Zeitlin, which has a lot in common with ‘Beasts’.

DVD and Digital Copy of the Film.

Summary:

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a unique film in a lot of ways, given the look, sound, and structure. At the core though, it’s really a hero’s journey, which makes it kind of impressive given what we are seeing and how strong the performance from young Quvenzhane Wallis is. The Blu-ray is a great representation of the film, as it looks and sounds great, with enough extra features to further add on to the artful experience of this film. This is certainly a film worth seeing for people with open minds and an appreciation for interesting independent features.

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Gregg Senko

    On my must-see list.