The Sundance Film Festival is the biggest film festival in the United States. Since its founding in 1978, the festival has showcased thousands of independent movies, help jumpstart numerous careers, and released some of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, such as “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “The Usual Suspects” (1995), “Whiplash” (2014), and much, much more. One of the most recent films to premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is a movie called “Leave No Trace,” which has just made its way into theaters.
Based off the novel “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock, “Leave No Trace” tells the story of Will (Ben Foster), a veteran with a thirteen-year-old daughter named Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). Together, the two live off the grid within an urban park in Portland, Oregon. However, all that changes when the two are discovered by rangers and taken to social services. The two soon find themselves in new surroundings as they’re given a home out on a plantation. Despite the rough change, Tom soon adjusts to her new life among people as she begins to make friends and even starts to attend social events. But while Tom is learning to enjoy their new life, her father can’t seem to cope with the lifestyle of suburban living due to the crippling trauma that haunts him.
“Leave No Trace” is a beautiful but depressing story about a father who’s been emotionally traumatized from life in the military, which has left him disconnected with the modern world. Through its structured story and beautiful camera work, the film shows the serene beauty of nature in the Pacific Northwest, while at the same time, making the modern world seem alien and threatening as we follow our two main characters throughout the film.
What I like most about the film is it doesn’t come off as preachy; it never feels like the film is trying to throw an anti-government message at the audience’s face. Nor does it stop the narrative to talk about the ramifications of war. No, the film follows the rule of “Show Don’t Tell,” and lets the audience make their own deductions without flat out telling them. The story just flows from one scene to the next, and even when there’s no dialogue, you can tell what the characters are feeling or thinking through their body language and expressions.
Both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie deserve the most praise for their roles in “Leave No Trace.” Ben Foster owns it in his role as Will; the way he stares off without blinking, the long pauses, and all the subtle movements he makes completely mesh together and made it genuinely feel like Will was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Then there’s Thomasin McKenzie; for someone so young, she’s positively brilliant. From the beginning, all the way to the end, you can see the subtle changes she goes through, and the mixed emotions she’s experiencing. From her growing interest in wanting to live among people and her growing distress in staying with her damaged father. Together, they not only acted genuine, but made it feel genuine. You feel like they’re a family, you feel like Will is a troubled man, and you feel the growing conflict.
“Leave No Trace” is rated PG for thematic material throughout. Yes, despite the heavy material involving post-traumatic stress disorder, isolation, and the impact it has on family, there’s no swearing, or gore, whatsoever in the film. Keep in mind though, this is not an easy drama to sit through. When you think of independent films involving anguish, tragedy, and depressing drama, “Leave No Trace” is a perfect example of the genre. Despite this, the movie has earned the praise it’s receiving from critics, and it’s definitely worth a watch from anyone who’s a fan of independent films and/or the Sundance Film Festival. Which is why the final score for “Leave No Trace” is an 8 out of 10.
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.