Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures Review

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

With a stunning performance by Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" achieves greatness. "See it now before they become legends," says Mark Metcalf.

By - Jul 20th, 2012 04:00 am

Her name is Quvenzhane Wallis. Her nickname is “Nazie.” Everything that is great about Beasts of the Southern Wild—and there is so much that is great—comes from her.

The script is based on a one-act play by Lucy Alibar, who co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Behn Zeitlin. They acknowledge that when Nazie came in to audition, they went home and did a complete re-write inspired by her presence and talent. She was five when she auditioned. She lied about her age because the cut off was six. She has that kind of chutzpah.

Sometimes things just come together perfectly. Zeitlin and Alibar had an idea for a movie that lived on the edge of allegory, that took place in the post-apocalyptic world that was the delta of Louisiana after hurricane Katrina. It’s a movie with mythical, prehistoric beasts from a children’s story, called “aurochs,” with a dying father, his daughter and the memory of her vanished mother living in a community a little beyond poverty, in a place just removed from the oil refineries and the concrete of “civilization,” a place smack dab in the middle of what used to be known as the natural world. Into their lives came a little girl with the ferocity of an “auroch” and eyes filled with wisdom and what was, in the words of the director, a “rag tag little movie made with friends,” stepped out of the shadows of low-budget-independents and onto the big stage at Sundace and then at Cannes and now in a theater near you.

It’s a great success story, and the film is the perfect antidote to the spider and the hulk and the assorted other confections that Hollywood has prepared for us this summer. It’s a movie made by real people, with real people telling a story about real people and things that really happened. Maybe. See it now before they become legends.

I don’t want to imply that any of the greatness of Beasts of the Southern Wild is accidental. Behn Zeitlin gives every indication of being a deeply gifted and skillful filmmaker. The camera work, the editing, the use of sound and music, the performances of everyone—especially the many first-time actors—and the respect for the impact of story are all well beyond that of the usual low-budget independent filmmaker. He has said in interviews that none of it could have happened with out the warmth and generosity of the people of Louisiana. I hope he remembers those people and stays amongst them and continues to tell their stories.


Beasts of the Southern Wild opens Friday July 20, at the Landmark Downer Theatre. The film’s executive producer, Michael Raisler, hails from Wauwatosa, and will appear in person for Q&As on Friday, July 20 after the 7:30 p.m. show, Saturday, July 21, after the 5:00 p.m. show, and Sunday, July 22 after the 2:45 p.m. show. Tickets are available for online purchase here.

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