This review of Leave No Trace represents my first book and movie review (for Prepper Press).
Leave No Trace (official site) is based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock. I watched this movie with my wife, Sare Sare Smash, who suggested it as a family movie night, so we all gathered around the television and watched it together. The official description:
Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.
The father in this story suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder related to his time in the military to the point at which he cannot adequately function in “normal” society, hence their living in near isolation. His wife, the daughter’s mother, is deceased, leaving the two of them on their own.
Their in-the-woods, off-the-grid life comes to a head when a jogger spots the daughter and park rangers set out to find them, then kicking them out of the park and forcing them into societal life. The trailer to the movie can be viewed here:
Artistic and Entertainment Aspects
The Good – Leave No Trace is an independent film. This unto itself is a good thing. Independent films tend to have a more traditional focus on story and character development than the average made-for-the-masses films do. Not filmed for the masses, the film crew is freer to explore the more creative aspects of production. I like independent films for this reason. They have fewer creative constraints and their typically lower budget, in my opinion, forces enhanced creativity as there is not enough money for special effects and big-name actors.
The Bad – The lower-budget production acts not only as an indirect benefit, but also as a detriment. Acting was okay-ish (a big word, I know). There were clear cinematic elements that, presumably budget-driven, were left out. An example would be the father’s flashbacks to the war. Traditionally, we would see this played out as a scene where the individual is recalling traumatic parts of the war, where the viewer gets to see the memory on the screen itself.
While the exact nature of his post-war stress is irrelevant to the story, the absence of war scene flashbacks is striking. Instead of seeing the father in some war scene fighting for his life or watching friends die, we only see two scenes where he is holding his head in turmoil as helicopter sounds ring out overhead.
The movie is also slow moving. I expect this from most independent films as they take the time to focus on character. Leave No Trace takes this a bit too far, however. There are numerous scenes where the camera lingers and lingers, past the point at which the intent is conveyed. I could let this slide without mention, but the fact that we watched this movie as a family, the longer-than-necessary aspects led to several groans and “this is slow” comments from the kids.
Survival Skills Gleaned
The Good – Leave No Trace, from a prepper perspective, is fun to watch. We get to see bushcraft skills put to use in a fictional setting. We see the man teaching his daughter how to survive in the wild and stay hidden doing it. Their situation is not so far-fetched that it seems unbelievable. They utilize “civilized world” products like propane (used sparingly), a tent, headlamps, etc.
Beyond bushcraft, we see them being resourceful, buying products when they must and finding unorthodox ways to get cash. Their wilderness camp and living situation reminded me of the North Woods Hermit’s story, Maine’s semi-famous hermit who lived in the Maine woods undetected for 27 years.
The Bad – I have no criticism of the film from a prepper perspective. While the father sometimes makes poor decisions in the wild regarding his daughter’s welfare, those choices are driven by his inability to function normally in society, and a psychological need to stay in the wild. Nothing in the movie seemed far-fetched or unrealistic from a survival standpoint.
My immediate reaction after watching the film was to rate it as average, a rating of 2.5 mushroom clouds. But in the time between watching the movie and writing this review, the movie kept coming back to my mind – the story, the characters, and the ending. It’s rare that a movie sticks with me like that, and I have to assume it’s an indication of a decent film in some regard. I’m giving the movie an additional half mushroom cloud for that reason – bringing my rating of Leave No Trace to three clouds.