In the extraordinary, strikingly original post-Katrina fable Beasts of the Southern Wild, acting novice Quvenzhané Wallis (all of 6 years old when she shot the movie) radiates an amazing gravity and poise as a little Louisiana girl called Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy lives with her ailing, drinking daddy (Dwight Henry) in a dirt-poor but happy Delta community called the ''Bathtub,'' a dip of marshland outside New Orleans that's particularly vulnerable to flooding. The place is part real and part magical: The girl leads a believable (if dangerously unsupervised) existence; she's also unfazed by her visions of the prehistoric aurochs the cattlelike beasts of the title who, in a bit of environmental mythology, return to earth, summoned by catastrophic weather.
The wonder is, the whole movie resists categorization. A feat of homemade, collaborative filmmaking, it was directed by the (29-year-old) Wesleyan-educated first-timer Benh Zeitlin from a script he co-wrote with Lucy Alibar based on her own play. Beasts arrives heaped with critical praise and awards that may be more than its slender shoulders ought to bear. The movie is small, local, and idiosyncratic. Then again, it's also a thing of beauty and originality and for that, sustained huzzahs are in order. A