Beasts of the Southern Wild **** (PG-13) This low-budget bayou-drenched drama may be the sleeper hit of 2012 from new director Behn Zeitlin, and a cast of mostly unknown actors, depicting life on the non-urban side of the Louisiana levees, struggling to maintain their community in the wake of a massive flood. An amazing young actress named Quvenzhane Wallis anchors the film, as a child who is wise and determined beyond her years in dealing with a drunken dad, natural disasters, and recurring visions of rampaging beasts.
We meet a small group of tightly connected people living not only off the grid, but knee-deep (on a good day) in nature. They fish, trap, play indigenous music, drink and live in shacks that look vulnerable to any slight breeze, but still weather most of the weather their environs absorb. The kids go to school, but learn most of what they need from their elders to sustain their way of life. Tragedy strikes when a hurricane scatters families. Government shelters and programs are valued little; in some ways, those good intentions wind up serving the majority at the expense of marginal cultures like theirs.
The Cajun dialects will be hard for most to follow, but the heart of the script, and the loving, resilient character of the subculture it introduces will reward the effort. I have no idea what else Ms. Wallis can accomplish, but she’s certainly made one of the most remarkable starts any pre-teen performer has ever offered. (Re-released 1/18/13 due to numerous, richly-deserved nominations and awards)