No, it's not Spiderman, or Batman. It's not even based on a comic book. No, it's not Prometheus, the year's biggest disappointment, or Bernie, the funniest.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie starring an eight years old girl by a thirty year old first time director.
"Hushpuppy" played by Quvenzhane Wallis lives on the bayou when it's hit by a flood. Her mother left long ago and her father ain't around much. When you ain't got much and you lose what little you got a drama unfolds. This movie isn't safe, thank God.
It won't hurt if you know in advance what an "auroch" is. I didn't and at first assumed it was purely mythical, but aurochs used to roam the earth, maybe as prey for the dinosaurs who have now taken other forms. They appear on and off giving the movie a dimension that makes it far more than the sum of its parts.
It's a movie about a child but made for grown-ups. With it, Quvenzhane enters the pantheon of child actors who won't be forgotten even if she lives to be a hundred and never makes another. The look on her face says a whole lot of words. The same goes for Benh Zeitlin, the writer/director, who hails from Queens, New York. It's a wonder to try to imagine how he came up with the material, but perhaps the fact that one of his parents is a "folklorist" provides a clue.
The story morphs into a parable carried by a metaphor that reminds us of what it is to be human and to survive. There is a scene in the middle of four girls running through the grass I won't give away that led the audience when I saw it to let out a collective gasp, and it's not the only one.
If there is an antecedent it's probably the ideas of Maurice Sendak, though not the substance. The timing, when the public masquerade seems to outweigh the reality of living couldn't be better. The simple fact is flicks like Beasts of the Southern Wild don't come along very often.
It won both at Cannes and Sundance, so odds are good it will come to your neck of the woods. If you insist on movies where the character swings on a web you won't like it and will leave perplexed. (It's not that such movies don't have their place, but credit needs to be given when credit is due. Let's hear it for the grown-up in all of us.)
Chances are it won't make as much money in it's entire run than Spidey hauls in on a weekend, but hopefully that will be enough for Mr. Zeitlin to have a career as a filmmaker. I won't assume or lay on him that he make another this startling, but if he manages to do half as well next time out that will be an accomplishment.