By Anne Thompson and Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood January 24, 2012 at 1:46PM
The breakout hit of Sundance, Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," has critics gushing. After acquiring potential Academy contender "The Surrogate" for a cool $6 million for worldwide rights, Fox Searchlight closed a deal for "Beasts of the Southern Wild"as well. (Review round-up below.)
Nurtured by the Sundance Feature Film Program, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was created by a collective of filmmakers using non-actors. The movie paints an audacious portrait of a young girl and her hard-living single father living on the margins of society on a delta island south of New Orleans called "The Bathtub." They live off the land and the water, in harmony with nature, until the arrival of the Big Storm floods them out. This allegorical movie is so outrageous -and the talk of the festival-- that the film not only won the Sundance Festival's first $10,000 Indian Paintbrush producer's grant, but top-of-the-line distribution.
It's any indie filmmaker's fantasy.
The Atlantic, Robert Levin
But the film's careful injection of a warm, humanist spirit into an elaborate magical realist vision sets it apart. This is simultaneously a work of enormous vision and ambition, a thoroughly impractical moviemaking enterprise of extraordinary scale, and a love letter to the people of the Bayou State, who have persevered in the face of apocalyptic tragedy. Part "Tree of Life" and part "Treme," it might not be the best film to come out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, but it's certain to be the most-remembered.
Variety, Peter Debruge
The magic of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" comes in marrying the specifics of this odd regional enclave with a familiar allegorical form. Like a tattoo imprinted on the back of your head, the film's message has always been with us; we just needed someone else's eyes to see it.
Chicago Tribune, Steve Pond
His film is uneven, and its commercial prospects uncertain, but it's a ride to remember -- a deranged and at times moving look at a southern Louisiana community that seems to be composed of equal parts of the defiant soul of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward and the isolated, resourceful and party-minded spirit of deepest Cajun country… "Beasts" is by turns (and at times simultaneously) audacious and weird and annoying and lyrical and glorious and touching and ridiculous and exhilarating.
Shadow and Act, Tambay
Filled with whimsy, BOTSW also packs an emotional punch. There’s humor, joy, beauty, tragedy, hope and a spirit that moves. I don't know what its budget was, but I suspect it wasn't even close to mainstream industry averages; yet it looks fantastic; it was shot entirely on location (when you watch it, you'll see what makes that feat so impressive on a small budget); and there's even some CGI work.
Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy
One of the most striking films ever to debut at the "Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a poetic evocation of an endangered way of life and a surging paean to human resilience and self-reliance. Shot along the southernmost fringes of Louisiana, cast with nonactors and absolutely teeming with creativity in every aspect of its being, Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut could serve as a poster child for everything American independent cinema aspires to be but so seldom is.
Huffington Post, Mike Hogan
Pretty is not the word that springs to mind at first, despite the breathtaking production design and cinematography. These are wild people, with weathered faces and bodies, surrounded by trash and detritus, and most of the adults are permanently attached to bottles of booze. But residents of our overscheduled, overanalyzed world are likely to envy their fiery passions, their untethered freedom and their visceral connection to the water.
Collider, Matt Goldberg
Movies have the power to transport us to different worlds. Benh Zeitlin‘s "Beasts of the Southern Wild" transports us to a world we never dreamt before and beyond our imagination. It is a world wrapped in poetry, wonder, and magic. It is a work of breathtaking scope, vision, and confidence. It is a story bursting with life and death, rage and tranquility, fear and bravery, and all of it delivered through a magnificent score, thoughtful cinematography, and on the shoulders of its child star. It is an intellectual feast even though it sometimes leaves the emotional moments malnourished. But it is a movie unlike anything you’ve seen in recent years and it is a movie you must see… However, "Beasts" is so finely tuned and so intellectually satisfying that sometimes it forgets to breathe.
Cinema Blend, Katey Rich
Shot beautifully outdoors and featuring a lot of voiceover, Beasts is already earning some comparisons to Malick, but it's odder and more ragged, mixing fantasy and surrealism and myth with the kind of confidence that's stunning in a first feature. iIt's a bold, brave movie that is justly thrilling audiences here-- the festival has just begun, but I doubt I'll see anything as ambitious and heartfelt and gorgeously made the rest of my time in Park City.
HitFix, Gregory Ellwood
Zeitlin has a magnificent eye as a director and his use of music to build emotion and anticipation throughout the picture is exemplary (it doesn't hurt that he co-wrote the score with Dan Romer). In particular, the film's introduction to the joy of living in the Tub and Hushpuppy's not-unexpected triumph recall the artistic heights of Terrence Malick (really).