N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott is calling Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight, opening today in NY & LA) “a blast of sheer, improbable joy, a boisterous, thrilling action movie with a protagonist who can hold her own alongside Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida and the other brave young heroines of 2012. There are loose threads you can pull at — sometimes the wide-eyed wonder slides toward willful naivete, and there are moments of distracting formal sloppiness — but the garment will not come unraveled.
“A lot of thinking has gone into Beasts of the Southern Wild, about themes as well as methods, about the significance of the story as well as its shape. And it is certainly rich enough to invite and repay a healthy measure of critical thought.
“But its impact, its glory, is sensory rather than cerebral. Let me try out an analogy. Discovering this movie is like stumbling into a bar and encountering a band you’ve never heard of playing a kind of music that you can’t quite identify. Nor can you figure out how the musicians learned to play the way they do, with such fire and mastery. Did they pick it up from their grandparents, study at a conservatory, watch instructional videos on the Internet or just somehow make it all up? Are you witnessing the blossoming of authenticity or the triumph of artifice?
“Those are interesting questions. They are also irrelevant, because right now you are transported by an irresistible rhythm and moved by a melody that is profoundly, almost primally, familiar, even though you are sure you have never heard anything like it before.”
I’ve posted this a couple of times since Sundance but here, again, is my original review, which I titled “Rank, Robust, Ecstatic”:
The passionately praised film “is everything its admirers have said it is. 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.
“It’s 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.
“Beasts is much more of a naturalistic object d’art than a narrative-driven drama, at least as most of us define that term. 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.”