Take dialogue more mumbled than spoken. Add in photography that attempts to wring beauty out of desertion. Season with a sprinkling of actors & production team you haven’t heard of. Garnish with the fact that the plot doesn’t really kick in until half-way through. Consider also that I saw this in the very worst of viewing environments (on a long-haul flight). What do you get?
You get Winter’s Bone, a thing of stark elegiac beauty, a thriller/family drama that comments deeply on issues of rural poverty, the nature of broken families, gender roles and the sometimes traumatic rites of passage of growing up forced on some before their time. You get a film that’s everything and nothing, where the music hymns the deep beauty of the scenery, the hidden beauty of the people and the stark beauty of broken down buildings and burned out cars.
It’s the story of a 17-year-old girl, playing mother to her mother and her younger siblings, and forced to try to track down her disappeared, drug-dealing father for reasons best left for the film to unfold for you, in the shockingly understated way it does. I realise all that I’m saying makes this film sound so dull and worthy. It isn’t. It has the very best sort of tension – a slow-burning one. Your heart and soul will break for the daughter-mother at the center of it all. The story grips and shocks, and there are twists which you won’t see coming, lulled by beauty both visual and aural. It speaks to issues of poverty and identity and family right at the heart of a fracturing society.
In short, this is a rare film. It’s one of the best of the year, as well as one of the most important. See it, then buy it, and meditate on it in front of an open fire, with low lights and a strong drink.