New Film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” Fails to Move.

I’d love to be able to say that Beasts of the South­ern Wild lives up to all the hype that it’s man­aged to gen­er­ate. I’d love even to be able to say that you prob­a­bly need to know as lit­tle as pos­si­ble about it before going to see it in order appre­ci­ate its impact – and I shall be reveal­ing very lit­tle about it here.

But the fact of the mat­ter is, it’s dis­ap­point­ing­ly underwhelming.

It’s not just the way that it’s shot, but that cer­tain­ly doesn’t help. It’s shot on 16mm, that is to say on cel­lu­loid. It is in oth­er words, old school. But in real­i­ty it looks alas all too familiar.

Like every­thing else, and I mean every­thing else since The Blair Witch Project, it has that uncon­trol­lable urge to con­stant­ly resort to hand-held pho­tog­ra­phy as a short cut for authen­tic­i­ty. And while we’re on the sub­ject of the great white hope of inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma, what­ev­er hap­pened to that pair?

First, the idea that we go to the cin­e­ma for a win­dow on the world, to see in oth­er words an authen­tic real­i­ty unmedi­at­ed by artis­tic inven­tion, is hope­less­ly dat­ed and reeks of the Direct Cin­e­ma that flour­ished, briefly, in the 50s, before every­body grew up and moved on. What most of us go to the cin­e­ma for is to escape real­i­ty. Not be con­front­ed by it.

Sec­ond, if it is so say authen­tic­i­ty that you’re striv­ing for, and you find a cin­e­mat­ic trope to help you express it, then it is vital that you use what­ev­er it is that you have found as spar­ing­ly as pos­si­ble. Less, as ever, is always more.

If Benh Zeitlin, whose debut this is, had been forced to shoot it prop­er­ly and frame it a bit more thought­ful­ly, then it would­n’t have end­ed up look­ing quite so famil­iar. But all that hand-held stuff is so tedious.

Fur­ther­more, and this pains me to say it, but if the sto­ry had­n’t been quite so pal­pa­bly work­shopped, then it might have felt a lit­tle less con­trived. All sto­ries need to be end­less­ly chis­eled away at. It just should­n’t be quite so visible.

The per­for­mances of the father and daugh­ter are both won­der­ful. And there are some promis­ing polit­i­cal rum­blings that send rip­ples across the sur­face of the swamps where the whole thing is set. And it is a com­pe­tent indeed con­fi­dent direc­to­r­i­al debut. But the film tries much too hard to tug at our emo­tion­al sleeves. Like Antho­ny Quinn in the Inde­pen­dent here, it left me large­ly unmoved. It’s all just a bit too effortful.

You can see its trail­er here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music.