Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Mattie Do’s The Long Walk

There are some genre elements that don’t often get smashed together, especially not in Laos. For instance, there are sort of dystopian cyberpunk elements—sort of. Yet, the Laotian village setting looks frozen in time. There are a lot of strange things that unfold, but you should probably let them surprise you as they come up in Mattie Do’s The Long Walk, which releases today on VOD.

An old man (with a William Gibson-like implant in his arm) constantly walks the lonely stretch of road from his ramshackle farm house to the nearest provincial town. His only companion is a young woman, who never speaks. That’s because she is a ghost—but what about the young boy she introduces him to (silently, of course)?

It turns out the old man has a rather ominous reputation for either being a ghost talker, or someone who makes ghosts. That is why when a local woman goes missing, the cops come to his dilapidated home, to either accuse him or murder or enlist his aid divining the body. They are obviously not sure which.

Eventually, Do springs elements form films like
Looper on the unsuspecting audience, but her approach is almost too quiet and deliberate for its own good. The film runs nearly two hours, which is probably half an hour too long. Nevertheless, this is a very unusual and often unsettling story. Frankly, Long Walk is even more original than her previous film, Dearest Sister, but the execution isn’t quite as tight.

Regardless, Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy is totally riveting as the grizzled old man. You can see from one look how much guilt and baggage he carries—and indeed it turns out he is haunted in every sense. Even though she almost never speaks, Noutnapha Soydara gives an acutely sensitive performance as the young woman. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, most of the emotional heavy-lifting falls to Por Silatsa, who shows tremendous range as the boy.

The American-born, Laos-based Do brilliantly capitalizes on the rural Laotian setting. You can feel the heat and the humidity. Cinematographer Matthew Macar makes the noonday sun look sinister and the candle-lit late nights of the soul even more so. It is all quite visually striking, in ways that amplify the eerie atmosphere.

The way Do mines Laotian culture and history for inspiration makes her one of the most interesting genre filmmakers at work today.
Long Walk isn’t quite perfect, but it definitely features what already makes a Mattie Do film a Mattie Do film, which is cool. Recommended for adventurous genre fans, The Long Walk releases today (3/1) on VOD.