Benh Zeitlin‘s Beast of the Southern Wild is “something to sink into and take a bath in on any number of dream-like, atmospheric levels, and a film you can smell and taste and feel like few others I can think of,” I wrote on 1.25.12. “The emphasis is on sensual naturalism-wallowing — lush, grassy, muddy, oozy, leafy, stinky, primeval, non-hygenic, slithery, watery, ants up your ass — with a few story shards linked together like paper clips.
“It’s a poetic, organic, at times ecstatic capturing of a hallucinatory Louisiana neverland called the Bathtub, down in the delta lowlands and swarming with all manner of life and aromas, and a community of scrappy, hand-to-mouth fringe-dwellers, hunters, jungle-tribe survivors, animal-eaters and relentless alcohol-guzzlers who live there.
“The narrative, as such, focuses on six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and a third-act search for Hushpuppy’s mother.
“Wallis is a hugely appealing young actress — beautiful, spirited, wide-eyed — and she pretty much carries the human-soul portions of the film. But Henry’s dad, who cares for Hushpuppy in his own callous and bullying way, is a brute and a drunk and mostly a drag to be around, and after the fifth or sixth scene in which he’s raging and yelling and guzzling booze, there’s a voice inside that starts saying ‘I don’t know how much more of this asshole I can take.’
“Here comes the part of the review that the keepers of the precious Sundance flame are going to dislike. If you apply the classic Jim Hoberman ‘brief vacations’ concept of a great film not only being a kind of ‘sacred text’ but constituting a realm that a viewer would be happy to literally take up residence within, Beasts of the Southern Wild does not, for me, pass the test.”