Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a six-year-old girl who lives in an area of Louisiana known as The Bathtub due to its waterlogged state. The authorities have built a wall to keep the rising tides out, and she lives on the watery side of that with her hard-drinking and none too healthy father Wink (Dwight Henry) who tends to leave her to her own devices for hours, sometimes days at a time since her mother left them long ago. There is a community to see to it that the girl will not be abandoned, but the fact remains she relies on her father so when the region is threatened with heavy floods, her future is in doubt...
An example of a little movie that proved you didn't need to be a major studio-backed blockbuster to succeed, Beasts of the Southern Wild was made on a relative shoestring by other productions' standards, but proved so unusual in its vision that it caught on in a big way, maybe not raking in billions but doing very well indeed. That vision was from director Benh Zeitlin who was using the post-Hurricane Katrina region depicted in a fictionalised form, casting many of the locals and paying tribute to the sense of society there, though the way he basically set out to show its destruction might have raised a few eyebrows had it not ended on a note of endurance in spite of the hardships we watched.
Really the message here was that everything passes, and in its way this was an apocalypse movie, complete with its own wastelands and even giant monsters taking over, not through the effects of radiation but thanks to Antarctica melting and releasing "Aurochs", huge hoglike creatures which make a beeline for The Bathtub. Obviously as we were seeing this through the eyes of the little girl we had to approach this as a fantasy of her own making, though Zeitlin muddied the waters to make the clarity of the situation as potentially confusing to the audience as it would be to the child. Nevertheless, the challenge of growing up in poverty was at its heart, and that meant facing some harsh truths.
Like the matter of death, which Wink is heading towards and knows he must find a way to preserve Hushpuppy when he is not around to raise her, though not having been an alcoholic in the first place might have been a start. Once it is established that she is plucky but too young to look after herself - she manages to burn her shack down in an attempt to cook a meal - the story took the form of an adventure yarn as the waters take over and she and Wink have to float around on a makeshift boat taking what food they can from the fish that they catch. There was a curious emphasis on devouring animals, whether that be other animals doing so or humans feasting on their flesh, as if this kept us in touch with the dire circumstances, that desperation in finding sustenance.
But you could just as easily claim Beasts of the Southern Wild was about impermanence, as whatever we see here is fading and changing, giving way to whatever follows it be it beneficial or otherwise. Wink is undoubtedly on the way out, and so might Hushpuppy be should she be abandoned for good, which speaks to the possibility that humanity could very well be wiped out too if the environment continues to alter and shift: that end of the world as we know it mood was very much to the fore. We take away that Hushpuppy and her community might survive to live another day, but that won't last forever, like the Aurochs they will be replaced with something new, and eventually nothing as time marches ever onwards. You could be of the opinion that this was a pretentious indie version of Waterworld, a far less cool movie, and it was true it rambled like a piece of all too personal outsider art, but it had novelty on its side, along with a cast and crew who believed in what they were doing. Music by Zeitlin and Dan Romer.