mon 22/04/2024

Leave No Trace review - intense off-grid drama | reviews, news & interviews

Leave No Trace review - intense off-grid drama

Leave No Trace review - intense off-grid drama

Debra Granik's follow-up to Winter's Bone tells of a father and daughter who don't fit in

Strays: Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster in 'Leave No Trace'All images © Sony Pictures Entertainment

The dad who lives off-grid with his offspring is becoming a regular visitor to cinema screens. He was last seen in the guise of Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, the story of the father whose seven-strong brood must learn to come out of the forest and live in society.

The latest telling is Leave No Trace, in which a military veteran Will (Ben Foster, pictured below) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have been camping, apparently for years, in the woods of a national park near Portland, Oregon.

Theirs is a quiescent existence among the ferns. They collect water from the dripping canopy and, in the opening scene, are shown to be adept at the Promethean gift for making fire. There’s always the precious propane cooker if the kindling is damp. In their down time they play chess. And Tom is not behind on her studies. Will's only connection to the outside world is to hike across the bridge into town to get prescription opioids and sell them on. There’s a drill for making a swift escape if need be, only it doesn’t work when one day a jogger spots Tom. The rangers descend. They are soon at the mercy of social services, where both undergo computerised psychological assessments. Among the 435 statements to which Will is asked to give a yes or no answer is “things are turning out the way the prophet said they would”.Ben Foster in Leave No TraceThey are granted accommodation up country in the house of a farmer who grows Christmas trees which must be cropped to a standardised shape. It’s precisely such a destiny that Will is hoping to avoid for both of them. “We can still think our own thoughts,” they tell each other as other freedoms fade. The script is perhaps a little too incurious about the source of Will’s fear (nor is there much info on the absence of Tom’s mother). All we gather from a stray cutting is that he is a military veteran who knows the statistics about suicide among his kind.

There are signs that Tom is less anxious about joining society, and has a nascent yearning to fit in, when she attends an advice group for owners of pet rabbits (a rare flirtation with comedy – another features a troupe of dancing women in church). The tension of the story lies in that growing rupture, between the social conformist and the damaged loner.Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No TraceLeave No Trace is adapted from My Abandonment, a novel by Peter Rock published in 2009. The book’s title alludes far more overtly to the state’s ingratitude to its servicemen and women who went to war. It was co-adapted (with Anne Rosellini) by Debra Granik, who also directs. Her last film was Winter’s Bone in 2010. She’s clearly attracted to the woods, and to young women learning to become pillars of strength. The previous film launched Jennifer Lawrence. McKenzie, who is from New Zealand, gives as rich and confident a performance as her compatriot Anna Paquin in The Piano. Foster is ruggedly intense, without ever revealing his hand until the final moments, which feels a little too late.

This road movie without a map is a much more sober consideration of the off-gridders’ dilemma than Captain Fantastic. It’s also less self-righteous in its condemnation of the mainstream’s straitjacketing norms. A kid gurning for selfies is about the worst of it. Father and daughter fetch up in a forest community of kindly guitar-strumming bee-keeping hippies, but is this heaven or another kind of hell? Depends who you ask, and what your view is of bee colonies. The jeopardy remains muted and subterranean until it sprouts at the very end.


The tension of the story lies in that growing rupture, between the social conformist and the damaged loner


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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