A magical fantastical film with a gritty father/daughter dynamic to run through the centre of a story about rising waters and oncoming fantasy beasts. I’ve never seen a film like this before and I loved it. It’s a fresh piece of movie making with a commanding and fierce leading actress of only nine years old who scowls, screams and smiles through a moving tale of sticking together, home and death.
The man who plays her dad is not an actor but he is brilliant too, the scenes with him and Quvenzhane Wallis are outstanding and she holds her own for a young girl. There’s a thematic device for her trying to burn her own separate place down to be closer to her daddy, a way for her to break down a barrier to experience a bond that isn’t really there at the beginning of the plot but by the end of the film it’s hugely there and it’s an emotional moment to see the father look at his daughter with such pride and acceptance.
There’s forces of nature and fantasy erupting into the Bathtub which all coincide with the central story of Hushpuppy (Wallis) trying to overcome troubles in her life. The shots of the falling glaciers mixing with the bayou thunderstorms is a great idea and highlights the scary fact of global warming affecting these people’s lives. They’re separated by the rest of society and a huge wall, they’re left to their own devices and Hushpuppy needs to learn how to live if she wants to survive the Bathtub. The migrating ‘Aurochs’ which resemble gigantic boars with ivory horns seem to act as the threat of nature too and as they escape from the ice age prison and start making their journey to the Bathtub it comes across as a neat way to have them looked at as the huge threat of outside forces trying to rip apart their lives.
The only section of the film that felt slow in pace and that I didn’t really enjoy was Hushpuppy and the girls boarding a ship and going to the Elysian Fields club. I realise it’s a scene that possibly sets up the notion of the girl seeing her mother, it being an audience interpretation of whether the cook is or not but it slowed down the movie for me and I would have been quite happy without the mother influence ever being physically present. The voices Hushpuppy hears and the drawings are enough to show she wants and loves her wise mum still, I preferred it being about the dad and his child and his struggle to raise her through his illness, his alcoholism and his aggressive behaviour.
The medical scene looked amazing to show stark contrast to the twisted and earthy feel of the bayou. It’s clinical whites and blues felt like a world away from the Bathtub. There’s many moments that look impressive, such as the floating house with it’s spiked wooden roof or the fireworks scene. The music also adds to the magical emotion of the film but it’s main strength does reside in Wallis’ performance which carries the film, she is amazing.
Aside from the bar scene and the unnecessary explosion which felt too CGI based for me – in a film that looked grounded and joyous in every other aspect – it’s a home run of a strong fascinating and enchanting tale featuring melting ice caps, raging ‘Auroch’s and more importantly an emotive and turbulent family relationship.