Yet another horror that loses substance to style, Those Who Walk Away tries its hardest to reel you in, but unfortunately, the bait is rotten and it’s hard to bite. The film follows a young heterosexual couple on their first date as they venture to a haunted house to get to know each other. Naturally, this is a recipe for disaster in more ways than one as things take a turn for the unpredictable.
The film is loosely inspired by the Ursula Le Guin short story ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ which tells the tale of a utopian city that relies upon the pain and torture of one child to function in harmony. Roughly building on this, Those Who Walk Away explores extremely dark and saddening topics centred on sexual abuse and childhood trauma.
The opening scene kicks off sunny and colourful as sensitive protagonist Max (BooBoo Stewart) nervously awaits his first date with a random girl off the internet. Fresh from a breakup and unsure how to cope, Max calls his best friend Dave (Connor McKinley Griffin) for a pep talk. It’s at this moment the artistic statement is established as Dave emerges from his assumed bedroom, still talking on the phone, now walking beside Max. This reflection of a voice in Max’s ear is how director Robert Rippberger showcases the importance of the visual representations in terms of understanding Max’s experience, and thus the overarching plot. The art design and camerawork are beyond impressive with consideration of the minuscule budget.
Relying too much on the visual aspects, the film does little to maintain interest or suspense, especially during the first act as the continuous follow shot loses its spark, much like Avery (Scarlett Sperduto) and Max’s somewhat dull and drawn out conversation. It is during this scene vital information is provided about the story of RotCreep (a monster confined to a house in the town, which requires a yearly sacrifice to stay satisfied). This information is easily missed as the film struggles to find its momentum. Once the couple reaches the house, things finally get started and the pace quickens as Max must fight through his trauma – literally.
A certain subtlety is established in the writing and cinematography which gets lost (and found again) throughout the entire feature. This subtlety aids the writing in many ways, as the film forces its viewers to weave the plot together themselves. However, the aid this provides to the otherwise puzzling narrative is short-lived as the reasoning behind the original antagonists’ (Avery and her brother) role in the overall meaning of the story is difficult to understand. This causes the initial statement to become convoluted and confusing by the final act as plot holes emerge and barely any satisfying answers are given.
With little clarity provided, and an ending that begs for more questions, Those Who Walk Away implores its audience for a rewatch, if only to deliver on the promise of some satisfying understanding of Max’s harrowing journey. Aspects of it are easily enjoyable as the camera work and general art design are beautiful and reflective of every essential element in the writing. The film attempts to provide commentary on the ideal of thriving while another suffers. This is ultimately lost, resulting in a confusing yet almost captivating viewing experience. The art style and camerawork are impressive and showcase the true heart and potential at the centre of this production. There’s no uncertainty that this is not a film for everyone, but who exactly it is for is questionable.
Those Who Walk Away is available on Digital now
by Kelsie Dickinson