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This is a guest post by Jordan Mendys.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the first feature of director Benh Zeitlin, and to simply call this a film is an understatement. Taking place in The Bathtub, a Delta community, this film is the story of 6 year old Hushpuppy searching for her mom in the face of the release of prehistoric beasts, and her father’s failing health. This cinematic pleasure departs from the traditional narrative form, and envelopes you in its world. You are not simply watching a tale of a little girl searching for her mother, but you are another member of The Bathtub along for the ride. Simply put, this film is less movie, and more of an experience.

I was caught off guard by this film after seeing the trailer. I was expecting a wonderful independent film, with all of the quirks and charms that seemingly come with the genre. But from the opening sequences of the film, you realize this is a unique film, that is going to take you along for the ride as an active, rather than a passive, viewer and member of the community. You are drawn into a party (which happens constantly in The Bathtub), and overwhelmed with the sights and sounds that are going on. The world on screen wraps you up, and takes you with it on every twist and turn.

The Bathtub is a gritty, yet inviting community. Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, is a semi-detached character, spanning the spectrum of verbally abusive to delicate and loving when he shows his daughter the skills she needs to survive in this chaotic world. Whatever the case, his teachings work, as Hushpuppy lives in her own house, cooks her own food (lighting her stove with a  blowtorch), yet is within earshot distance of Wink. Their relationship is tough to put a finger on, but there is definitely love, however it may look, between the two characters. As Wink’s health starts to decline, their relationship is not so much strengthened as it is cemented, fully showing their reliability and need for each other.

The first impression that one gets from this film has been echoed from my encounters, which is Hurricane Katrina. A large flood threatens the area, forcing some inhabitants to flee, whereas the dedicated few do not wish to leave their homes and lives behind. The flooding, poorly built levees, forced exodus of residents from their homes, and lack of access given to the Delta community parallels the struggles of Katrina victims. Of course, there is nothing to really specify this is a direct Gulf Coast metaphor, but I think it is something that adds to the intrigue and interest in this film.

Early on you are introduced to what I would describe as the “religion” of the area, which is heavily based on the existence of prehistoric creatures, aurochs, that have the ability to be released and wreak havoc on the world. That paired with other small nuances of “otherworldly,” so to speak, elements hints at a touch of Magical Realism. You are in a world that looks a lot like ours, but there is something different and exciting pulling you along.

The film really shines with its cinematography, thanks to cinematographer Ben Richardson. The film is absolutely beautiful from lighting to composition. Each shot is deliberate, and the strong use of handheld camera work even greater secures the notion that you are a part of this film and experience. The colors and on screen imagery really draws the viewer into the beauty of this environment, and justifies why the community is fighting so hard to stay in their homes.
As mentioned, the film has a different tone from most other works.

The narrative structure is different, no really relying on rising and falling action, brought to its apex with a climactic sequence, followed by the closing of the film. This isn’t to say that this film isn’t ripe with drama and excitement, and there is a discernible “climax,” but not in the way we’re used to. You are brought in as an active member, and as the film ends, your time in The Bathtub does as well. Goals are achieved, conflict resolved, but in a way most film goers are not accustomed to. In many ways Beasts of the Southern Wild has experimental storytelling techniques, but not in the way you’ll see in a classic Dalí and Buñuel film. So there is nothing to worry about for non-surrealist fans.

This is a must see for any fan of cinema. I specifically use that word versus film or movie, because this is a piece of art, standing above the typically released movies we are accustomed to. Every moment is uniquely cinematic, and is so beautiful to watch. For those who might not be sure about this film, give it a try, and I think you’ll be greatly pleased.

Jordan Mendys is a film lover as well as a cinematographer from North Carolina. He is finishing his Masters in Film and Video, while also writing for Non Stop Vid.