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REVIEW: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

REVIEW: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

REVIEW: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', Flicks.co.nz

4 stars

In this Sundance and Cannes-winning drama six-year-old Hushpuppy searches for her lost mother in swampland off the Louisiana coast against the backdrop of an environmental catastrophe that may have unleashed an army of prehistoric creatures. Now playing nationwide.

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A surprise hit at Cannes and Sundance, Benh Zeitlin's Oscar-tipped debut is a film about children that's most definitely not for children. Meandering and confusing but brushed with magic, it pits six-year-old heroine Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), against dangers both real and imagined, acknowledging the fact that, to a child, they are one and the same.

Hushpuppy lives with her father (Dwight Henry), a drunk, in “the Bathtub”, a bayou island community outside New Orleans. It's not an idyllic life, but it is an innocent one, until Hurricane Katrina floods the area and the residents are washed out into the district's ravaged out-lands, where monsters such as the prehistoric Aurochs (fearsomely tusked black pigs) supposedly dwell.

Seen through Hushpuppy's young eyes, this extraordinary tale gains much in the telling, resembling Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath Of God narrated by Huckleberry Finn. A fierce thing, with an untameable afro and inquisitive eyes, Hushpuppy is no little girl lost, and she adapts to the hardships of her new life without ever quite understanding what is happening to her.

It's a stunning performance for such a young actress, and Zeitlin shoots everything from hip-height, slipping in and out of focus to mimic the ebbs and flows of Hushpuppy's unformed memory. Everything in the Bathtub is scavenged or found, and the film has a ramshackle charm to match, freewheeling through the story's traumatic events with whirligig charm. It's extraordinary rather than enthralling – and certainly not for everyone – but Beasts is the strangest, sweetest coming-of-age flick you'll see all year.

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