Director: Benh Zeitlin
Stars: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry

It’s rare that a movie given such a high amount of critical hyperbole and instant prestige lives up to the hype. After winning both the top grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January and the Caméra d’Or (designated for best first-time director) at the Cannes Film Festival last month, debut feature helmer Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild has been riding one of the loudest, most enthusiastic waves of pre-release build-up seen in quite some time.

We’re more than happy to report that all of the positive word is absolutely justified. Anchored by an astounding performance from 6-year-old rookie Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts is an emotional powerhouse. The film follows a tough little girl, Hushpuppy, who, living in a fictional New Orleans marshland community called “The Bathtub,” must contend with both a dying father (the equally dynamite Dwight Henry), mythical monsters known as “aurochs,” and rising waters that are washing her homeland away.

Shot in the heart of New Orleans with newbie actors and a tight-knit production crew, Zeitlin’s picture is as authentic as it is captivating. When Hushpuppy’s defiant narration isn’t either making you laugh or stand at attention, the film’s rich characters and brave narrative turns will leave you clutching for fresh Kleenex. It’s a towering achievement from a director and young rugrat/actress whose names we’ll be hearing a lot of come awards season.