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Movie review: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

Rated: PG-13 (thematic material including child imperilment, disturbing images, strong language, brief sensuality)

Running time: 91 min.

Posted 6:46am on Friday, Jul. 06, 2012

Credit where credit's due: There's nothing else quite like Beasts of the Southern Wild in theaters this summer. In fact, there may be nothing like it this year or even next.

It's American magical realism set along the Louisiana coast, a slow, measured and fantastical twist on the gritty realities of HBO's Treme. And if this debut feature from director Benh Zeitlin is infected with a serious case of overreach and ends up painfully precious, it's also daring and unpredictable in the season of the safe and sorry.

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (the totally captivating Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her sickly dad, Wink (the equally strong Dwight Henry, a baker making his film debut), in a poverty-stricken, flood-prone, racially mixed rural community called The Bathtub that wants nothing to do with modernity. Things go from bad to worse when the waters start to rise and a herd of aurochs (prehistoric cattle) are somehow unfrozen, coming to angry life and heading right for The Bathtub.

If that sounds like science fiction, it's not. The plot points matter less than the mood: a hot, sticky sense of place that is full of food, family, music and impending disaster, both ecological and cultural.

Zeitlin, a New Yorker, has been criticized for fetishizing the poor, making heavy-handed allusions to Katrina and hiding it under a cloud of surrealism. But the beautifully (if inexpensively) shot Beasts, which picked up several prizes at Cannes, features such strong performances and is so individual in its style that it can't be so easily dismissed.

Beasts may not end up being the best film of the year, but it's certainly one of the most memorable.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano

Cary Darling, 817-390-7571

Twitter: @carydar

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