Grief, missed opportunities and the lingering love of those we’ve lost all combine in Mattie Do’s The Long Walk, a surreal, time-warping fable about the choices we make and their ripple effects, both known and unknown. Less a horror film than something just creepy enough to keep you up at night, the film is set in Laos, a country with deep traditions yet long oppressed by a string of colonizers and lacking the infrastructure so essential to any functioning economy. Do explores both in a nondescript future-state where everyone is embedded with a tracking device in their arm, used both for population control and financial transactions (forearms get scanned for purchases and debits), and well-meaning NGOs supply the country’s farmers with technology they don’t need, ignoring their actual priorities all together.
At the center of it all is The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy), who spends his time wandering the rural woodlands searching for detritus and other resources of value. It’s unclear at first just what he’s up to, and the silent young woman who accompanies him doesn’t exactly clarify things. He’s known as a bit of a spiritual guide in the village, someone who can contact the recently departed and assure their loved ones that they’ve moved on successfully. Elsewhere, the local authorities keep finding older women dead under suspicious circumstances, no explanation as to how they died or who helped them towards their tragic end. The daughter of one of these women asks the Old Man to help her connect with her mother, but he resists.
Somewhere along the line, the film bends timelines and we meet a young boy caring for his sick mother while his drunk of a father struggles to keep the family farm functioning. It’s so subtle one might miss it, but Do (and screenwriter Christopher Larsen) eventually give us enough to tie the Old Man and the boy together, as the former helps the latter through a difficult time in the hopes that it will relieve some of his own guilt along the way. That it doesn’t isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s nevertheless tragic, a heartbreaking if misguided attempt to repent and right the wrongs of his past.
American-born Do (who now lives and works in her parents’ native Laos) is enamored with the country of her ancestors and its people, and a movie this nuanced, filmed with care to feature the countryside as much as the actors, goes a long way to provoke similar sentiments in its audiences. The Old Man’s journey through his own grief and regrets isn’t always easy to watch, but Do’s gentle touch, even as the film dips into moments resembling something like sci-fi, makes it worthwhile. In the end, the film is an artfully crafted and thoughtful rumination on how the land that nourishes us and the people who raise us never truly leave us.
The Long Walk is now available on VOD.
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