This is a world out of time and, despite the trappings of flinty realism, the film too unfolds like an elemental myth from the stormy past -- a Greek tragedy driven by dark fates and struggling toward a catharsis.
The main reason for Winter's Bone to exist is that it delivers a little voyeuristic thrill -- a bit of poverty porno -- for the critics who awarded it their highest honors at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Following its brave heroine (an outstanding Jennifer Lawrence) as she seeks to uncover the truth behind her father's disappearance, the film employs the structure of a whodunit to take a tough, unflinching look at an impoverished Ozarks community.
Every so often a film gets under our skin with its haunting authenticity, reinforcing our faith in the wonderfully transporting power of cinematic storytelling. Winter's Bone is unquestionably that film.