The Sundance Review Revue: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

On my computer at home, I keep a running list of every movie I watch (in a related story: I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was 18. Can you believe it?). Beneath that list, I keep a second running list of all the movies I need to watch. When I can’t make it to a festival like Sundance, I look at reviews and tweets and take note of the stuff that I need to keep on my radar. This morning I added the first Sundance ’12 movie to that second running list: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

Here are some of the words critics at Sundance are using to describe this film: “stunning,” “magnificent,” “magical,” and “unforgettable.” I just imagine the co-writer/director, Benh Zeitlin, reading all that and turning into Sally Field: “You like me! You reeeeeeally like me!”

I’ll try to build a plot synopsis here, but I suspect it won’t really do the film justice — most of the reviews hint at impressive visuals and moving themes that aren’t very easy to capsulate. Nevertheless, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is about a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in “The Bathtub,” the southern swamps of the Mississippi Delta. Wink is dying of a terminal illness, and after a teacher tells Hushpuppy that “the fabric of the universe is coming unraveled” it actually seems to. The polar ice caps start to melt, and inside, writes Anthony Kaufman of Screen Daily are “prehistoric giant warthogs” ready to terrorize the populace. Man, if I had a nickel for every Sundance movie that involved the inhabitants of the Southern Mississippi Delta fighting prehistoric giant warthogs I would have, uh, lemme see, five cents.

Kaufman is actually one of the few outliers in the BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD lovefest. He wrote that it’s “original and weird enough to be watchable, but not coherent or concise enough to be commercial,” but that’s definitely the minority opinion. Ryland Aldrich from Twitch declared that the film “captured lightning in a bottle” and is the “kind of fresh vision that rekindles one’s passion for independent cinema.” Steve Pond from TheWrap described it as “by turns (and at times simultaneously) audacious and weird and annoying and lyrical and glorious and touching and ridiculous and exhilarating.” And Lou Lumenick from The New York Post — the gentleman who pegged BEASTS as “unforgettable” — calls it “a serious contender in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition.”

Fairy tale, fable, and effed-up-ness, all in one film. That’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, an early frontrunner for best of the fest honors. Make sure you add it to your own must-see list. Wherever you keep it. Let’s see what Twitter had to say:

“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is just incredible, a stunningly joyous and beautifully executed story of love and nature of responsibility.” — Scott Macauley, Filmmaker Magazine

“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD has about everything you want in a debut: beautifully shot, wildly original, killer performances by newcomers” — Logan Hill, GQ

“We go to film festivals to see films like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, a brilliant and daring example of independent cinema. #Sundance” — Chase Whale, MakingOf

“The BEASTS OF SOUTHERN WILD is an ambitiously unique southern fairy tale set in the junked up overgrown wasteland of The Bathtub, LA.#fb” — Jeff Goldsmith, The Q&A

“Not ready for words re: @BeastsTheMovie. Shoulda saved it til the last day maybe. Everything now feels anti climactic.” — Michael Tully, Hammer to Nail

To find out when else BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is playing at the festival, go to