Leave No Trace Gets Lost on Purpose

Movie Review: Leave No Trace

Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie take on the weight of a father and daughter looking for a place to call home in world that wavers between ambivalence and hostility.

Leave No Trace

4/5

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie

Directed by: Debra Granik

Running time: 1 hr 49 mins

Rating: Parental Guidance

By Katherine Monk

Within the first twenty minutes of watching Debra Granik’s latest, you may feel a sympathetic dampness and a cool chill thanks to the woman who brought you Winter’s Bone.

Set in the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, our two central characters always look wet, cold and deathly pale — which is just about right, because these two souls are metaphorically drowning. We’re just not sure which ocean of misery they’ve fallen into, or why.

We’re not even sure what the relationship is between this middle aged man in camouflage and the young woman who looks at him with a mix of weariness and admiration. All we know to start is they are living in the woods, but doing it extremely well.

Using a rain poncho to gather water over a bucket, making fires with flint and whittled sticks, and secreting their most valuable possessions in a buried paint can hidden by branches, these two humans could be survivors of the zombie apocalypse, homeless as a result of financial hardship, or living on the lam to avoid prosecution for some horrible crime.

So we keep watching and wondering because it’s clear this is not some camping trip for the purpose of pleasure. The older man instructs the young girl on how to hide and evade capture. He teaches her how to walk through the world without leaving a trace — which in our modern times so fixated on making an impression and leaving one’s mark, feels entirely deviant.

So we keep watching and wondering because it’s clear this is not some camping trip for the purpose of pleasure. The older man instructs the young girl on how to hide and evade capture. He teaches her how to walk through the world without leaving a trace — which in our modern times so fixated on making an impression and leaving one’s mark, feels entirely deviant.

Granik knows this, and so she plays it out with an almost forensic eye, trying to understand what’s died inside these characters, and more importantly, what’s probably died inside ourselves.

It’s a slow slog, but Granik proved she can turn a long, somewhat uneventful, walk in the woods into a modern classic with Winter’s Bone — the movie that launched Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes into the stratosphere when it premiered at Sundance.

Part of the seduction is the idea of a vulnerable, fawn-like creature wandering around in the midst of the wilderness. She creates suspense through the lack of visible safety. The rest of the spell is woven by the young girl, her unlikely strength and her surprisingly autonomous streak.

We don’t realize it right away, but Granik is slowly untying one narrative knot after another — turning the startled fawn into the grizzly bear of strength, and the muscular former marine with all the survival skills into the delicate, broken deer.

Without explaining too much of the minimal plot, this is the story of a father who cannot live in the world. A broken soldier suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, Dad (Ben Foster) has decided to opt out and live on the land with his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie). The two make a great team, at times looking like a two-person version of Viggo Mortensen and his Swiss family Robinson from Captain Fantastic.

At others, they seem like refugees — lost, unwanted and entirely misunderstood by a world that really doesn’t want to look too closely, god forbid a sense of responsibility seeps in. Granik never points a finger in our direction. Instead, she does the same thing she did with Winter’s Bone: She makes us spend enough time in the company of these others that we can’t help but recognize ourselves in their defeated faces, or feel complicit in their exile.

We become the mute voice of society, quietly judging, urging for conformity so that all feels right in the world. Yet, that’s the very thing this movie refuses to reconcile. Nothing is “right in the world.” Even in a real home with all the conveniences, with fresh paint and warm, dry comforters, the cold feelings persist.

We become the mute voice of society, quietly judging, urging for conformity so that all feels right in the world. Yet, that’s the very thing this movie refuses to reconcile. Nothing is “right in the world.” Even in a real home with all the conveniences, with fresh paint and warm, dry comforters, the cold feelings persist.

The result is a film that will leave you feeling more numb than alive, and offer more questions than any sense of closure. It’s a slow-motion amputation of feeling — which, more so than the actual plot about a man so broken he can no longer be a functional patriarch, is why Leave No Trace makes a timely mark on the collective psyche.

@katherinemonk

THE EXPRESS, July 17, 2018
Read The Ex-Press movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

-30-

Review: Leave No Trace

User Rating

0 (0 Votes)

Summary

Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie take on the weight of a father and daughter looking for a place to call home in world that wavers between ambivalence and hostility. The result is a film that will leave you feeling more numb than alive, and offer more questions than any sense of closure. It’s a slow-motion amputation of feeling — which, more so than the actual plot about a man so broken he can no longer be a functional patriarch, is why Leave No Trace makes a timely mark on the collective psyche. -- Katherine Monk

No Replies to "Leave No Trace Gets Lost on Purpose"