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November 20, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern WildInfuriating, insulting, and bathed in patronizing condescension, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a magical realist movie unclear on the concept. Granted, magical realism is perhaps the most demanding film genre second only to black comedy, but director Benh Zeitlin and playwright/screenwriter Lucy Alibar screwed the royal pooch on this one.

The “beasts” of the film’s title are the ignorant and socially inept residents of a Louisiana Delta island community known as the “Bathtub” that lies outside of a hurricane-protecting seawall. The island sits barely above the water level. It contains a desperately impoverished group of illiterate people living with an unintentional death wish.

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in abject squalor alongside her wildly abusive father Wink (Dwight Henry). Single Wink is such a threat to his daughter that Hushpuppy lives alone in an elevated mobile home. The tiny girl uses a blowtorch to light the stove upon which she cooks her own meals. Social services would have a field day.

Lucy Alibar woefully attempts to channel Maurice Sendak (think “Where the Wild Things Are”) by including a group of giant deadly boars that Hushpuppy communes with in the movie’s most abstract moment. A Katrina-styled storm obliterates Hushpuppy’s Bathtub home. Survivors build a shelter amid the rubble for the few remaining residents to reside. Wink demands his daughter undergo a rite-of-passage that involves “beasting” a crab — smashing it open and sucking out its juicy white meat. You may never want the eat crab again.

Crammed with child-endangering situations and wrongheaded social logic — Hushpuppy gets more responsible child rearing from a prostitute cook than she does from her dad — the PG-13-rated movie is seemingly made for no audience. The little girl is repeatedly bullied into action lest she be regarded a “pussy.” I would posit that that precious epithet be applied to the filmmakers' lack of effort toward crafting the movie. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is one of the worst films to come out of 2012.

Rated PG-13. 91 mins. (F) (Zero Stars - out of five/no halves)

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