Tucked amidst the clamour for statuettes and recognition over the last awards season, one film hid in plain sight. Leave No Trace is, as the title would suggest, a film about not wanting to be found, operating anonymously and stepping outside ‘normal’ conventions. While those in charge of nominations seemed to take the films themes as literal by ignoring the film, I recently caught up with Leave No Trace and was astounded by it’s quality, the performance of its young star and its message.
Leave No Trace has minimal dialogue in its opening movements but much is communicated and inferred as we encounter Will (Ben Foster) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) living amid the flora and fauna of one of Portland’s vast wooded landscapes. This has been their life for a while, they don’t tell you that, but as you watch them go about their daily routines it is clear this is not a life they chose within the last few weeks.
Will has taught Tom everything he knows and from his startled dreams and fits of monstrous fear we learn of his military past and the PTSD suffered as a consequence. Trust does not come easy to Will and this becomes more and more evident as the story progresses.
A chance discovery by a hiker means that it is not long before social services and other government services set about taking control of their lives and gently forcing them back into ‘normality’. A home and work are provided for Will, along with a school place for Tom. However Will soon becomes restless and uncomfortable in this new lifestyle and the pair are soon on the move again at Will’s behest. Tom is however becoming less easily swayed. A sense of comfort within community is forming that she is unable to shake despite her father’s protestations.
Falling between the cracks of superheroes and jump scare horrors, Leave No Trace is one of those American indie films that got lost all too quickly in the multiplex shuffle. The film has two great performances from Ben Foster and Thomas McKenzie. Every look exchanged between the pair says something about their relationship, their love for each other, their concerns and their hopes. As Tom, McKenzie gives a performance far beyond her years as she wrestles between the desire to be with her father and wishing they could remain part of the community they find themselves among.
The film tackles a wealth of issues, but its big question is can we ever be free? Can we ever release ourselves from the constraints of systems that operate to protect and present us with opportunities but this is caveated heavily with the insistence that we conform.
That question is an important one for us because something in me as a viewer longed for the pair to make it, to escape the system and yet we understood the pull of community. The draw of like minded souls is perhaps one of the strongest forces we can encounter. We all want a little freedom at times. We all want to ‘get away from it all’ and yet we pursue community, neighbours, understanding.
It is part of who we are as people.
There is no right or wrong in that regard.
That is all part of the journey, the question is how far we are prepared to go.
How far would you go to be free.
Leave no Trace is available on DVD and VOD now.