Leave No Trace (2018) Review


Director: Debra Granik

Writers: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Actors: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster

With every film I watch, I go into it with no information. To try to be as objective as I can, or at least let the film speak for itself. I don’t need to watch a trailer to hype it up for me. I just need the film to do the work. With Leave No Trace, it was the same thing but to the extreme. I seriously knew NOTHING about the film. All I knew was the title. I didn’t get a glimpse of the short summary, or the cast, or anything for that matter. I remember seeing it in a list or on reddit one day and thought why not. So all I had going for it was the title and that’s it. So when the film first started, I was like “oh is this going to be like The Last of Us or something?”. I thought maybe it would be a post apocalyptic film where they had to survive and all of that. However, at 10 minutes something happens, and I straighten up and think “oh this is interesting”.

Because I knew nothing about the film, and seriously felt like I knew the plot from the first few minutes, it shocked me how quickly I was proven wrong. The film revolves around Will and Tom, a father and daughter who have been living in out of the ordinary situations. The whole film hinges on Will’s struggles. However, the strongest aspect of how the film portrays this struggle is that it does not shove it in the audiences’ faces. As Mark Kermode said in his Top Ten Films So Far video “Show me, don’t tell me”. That is exactly how I feel about this film and why I think it is a really good one. The film is trying to show us the struggles veterans have when coming back to civilization. However, this is not shown in a preachy way. It is given to us bit by bit. And it is never explicitly told, as if giving us a PSA. We infer Will’s struggles through certain queues or conversations that happen that slowly shed the light on his issue. Slowly but surely, the film paints the big picture that takes time for it to flourish. It gives us time to inspect every element rather than giving it to us immediately while having someone constantly trying to explain it. Granik lets the audience formulate their own opinion on the matter, and thats one of my favorite things to see in any film. Just let me figure it out.

Although Will’s struggles are the center of this film, and what moves the plot, I feel like at the heart of Leave No Trace is the relationship between Will and Tom. The relationship shown on screen was a really touching one. Again, Granik takes the approach of showing us and not telling us. The two characters rarely have conversations. We get a sense of their relationship based on their actions. One thing that really stood out to me was the way Tom acted. She cares about her dad to an insane degree that she is putting up with this strange life. She gets to go with him to the city, and see how people are living normal lives. But she just doesn’t care about that. She loves her dad so much that she is willing to sacrifice everything to allow her dad to live this life. Furthermore, the lengths she goes to to try and protect him is also really touching. Aside from that, Will also adds to this narrative. He knows that he is causing so much pain for his daughter but he just cant help it. So he does whatever he can to protect her. Like that night walking in the cold forest. He gives her all his clothes, puts her feet under his shirt to warm it off, and builds a shelter as fast as possible. He is not going to let anything take her away from him. Overall, the father daughter relationship between Will and Tom was a really touching one. It tugged at my heartstrings and I just wanted them to make it.

Leave No Trace surprised me. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and was thoroughly happy once I was done. Granik really gave a powerful story that did not feel preachy given the subject matter. She took her time to allow the story to fester and for the ideas to develop in the minds of the people watching at home. Also, I just want to say that Thomasin McKenzie did an incredible job. Ben Foster was amazing too, but McKenzie showed incredible skill and I can’t wait to see what she does next. She seems to be out for greatness with a performance like that. All in all, this was a very enjoyable film. I loved the way the director decided to present her message and how she made the audience figure things out on their own. The subject matter was important and I feel like more films need to touch upon this issue, especially in ways like this.