Banjos. Shotguns. Tight-knit extended families. Hogs. Battered old cars. Casual violence. Poverty. Isolation. Chainsaws. Disregard for the law. Hostility to strangers. More Banjos. The hillbilly has not been treated kindly by Hollywood.
Winter's Bone is set in southern Missouri, and tells the story of a 17-year-old girl facing incredibly hard choices as she struggles for the sake of her family. It's a topic with the potential to be worthy, grim and dull, but the film is instead dramatic and enthralling.
Winter's Bone avoids becoming yet another inane hillbilly-as-monster movie. The reason is simple: unlike many films about the rural South of the US, the protagonist isn't an outsider. Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is part of the society depicted in the film, and as such the setting feels far more interesting and credible than in the typical hillbilly movie. Her world is not a cardboard cut-out set up to provide cheap scares.
Remarkably (and enjoyably), Winter's Bone manages to include many of the stereotypical elements I listed above. It does something far more novel than trying to dismiss the stereotype: it redefines how the viewer sees it and feels about it.
Above all, this is simply a damn fine story, acted well, with a plausible setting and a good pace.
Marks out of five: ****
Winter's Bone opens on Friday 17th September in Light House Cinema. Light House should be pleased with themselves: they've picked a real winner with this.