Film Review: Walking Out @ Sundance London 2017

★★★★☆ – Alex and Andrew Smith’s Walking out is a terse mountain thriller, juxtaposing the strength of the human psyche with the power of mother nature.

Following David (Josh Wiggins) on his journey to reconnect with his estranged father, the film opens with him landing in Montana airport. Glued to his phone playing violent video games and burrowing into his coat, the blistering storms outside serve to introduce rugged dad Cal (Matt Bomer) as he grabs David’s attention with a sharp rap on the window.

An awkward reintroduction and some missed calls from mom later, and the two are uncomfortably reunited for season of hunting on the mountain. Cal wants to reconnect with his son by taking down his first moose, in spite of David’s fumbling reflexes with his rifle. When the two set out on a hunt through the inhospitable landscape set to last several days, the trip soon takes a sharp turn for the worst.

Instead of a moose, the two are confronted with a bear – and not dissimilar to The Revenant, the duo’s struggle with the wilderness and their own injuries sets a nail-biting pretence for the rest of the film.

In saying that however, it takes a good portion of the film to reach this point – the audience having to plow through its slow-burn build up. The first half of the narrative drags its feet in the snow drifts, lingering a little too long in its anticipation and leaving an audience weary by its midpoint. Perhaps this is purposeful, as the electrifying bear encounter soon serves to snap the film back into shape: the pure adrenaline-pumping intensity of the scene left more than just myself in the cinema with an open jaw. You soon forget the slowness.

The two halves serve their purpose in reflecting a change in the dynamic of the father-son relationship. After the bear, the pressure is on – there’s no time to learn from each other, there’s no idle chatter or time for thought. The two have to rely on each other to survive, resentful or not, and their strained attempt at connecting is pushed to its brink.

Both Josh Wiggins and Matt Bomer are stars in their own right in Walking Out, masterfully depicting their characters with nuance in their actions as much as their words. The theme of masculinity and a father wanting to pass his lineage of male bonding down to his sheltered son remains strong throughout.

Flashbacks serve to show us the struggle for Cal to connect with his own father, not understanding his compassion in his hunting kills. Cal desperately seeks to find a type of redemption, he wants to be the father he so idolised in his youth in the eyes of David – and this perpetuation of what a man should be turns to something sour in the process.

It has to be said, the shots of the landscape are truly breath taking. Painterly in its portrayal, the twin brother directors sweep through the Montana mountains with reverence and respect. They even go so far as to delve so deep into the textures of the wild that we are left reeling from kaleidoscope-like patterns, dizzying in their intricacy.

We always understand the strength of the environment we’re plunged into, but are equally left to indulge in its picturesque qualities. Our protagonists are forced to deal with its hostility first hand, and still the white-out hills are awe-inspiring in their presentation. The balance is a spectacle in itself.

Whilst the plot and festishisation of the snowy natural world feels a little too close to The Revenant for comfort, the film holds its own as a strong and individual narrative. It’s powerful, and carries its violent undertones with aplomb.

As mentioned, the pace does have points where it drags in both halves. Sometimes David and Cal’s relationship is hard to understand, his violent and masculine father primitive to the sensitive and quiet son – there always feels like there’s something else boiling under the surface.

In any case, the few shortfalls that the film comes up with bear no importance to the effect it resonates in its watchers. Walking Out is painfully tense, tactfully touching, and will make you think about how we treat the world, and the people, around us.

Walking Out screened as part of the Sundance London schedule on 1st – 4th June. It will be in cinemas 6th October 2017. 

This article was originally posted on The National Student.

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