Any Laotian film is a genuine rarity to catch. Therefore I couldn’t resist the festival indie “The Long Walk” (“Bor Mi Vanh Chark” as in the original title), a ghost story directed by Mattie Do, which was screened at this year’s Warsaw Film Festival.
Mattie Do, an American-born director, who first made the independent media headlines thanks to dense horror darling “Three Sisters”, has set her course for Laos once again.
In “The Long Walk”, Do finds two characters living in separate timelines. A nameless boy (Por Silatsa) encounters a lethally wounded woman in the bushes, whose mysterious death creates an interdimensional hole. As a consequence, a character named The Old Man (characteristic and memorable performance of Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is able to visit the boy’s reality and help him alleviate the pain of his dying mother.
If you already feel confused, the plot will only become more dense from that point. Why?
Mattie Do juggles with connected timelines, seemingly unimportant details and insinuations so extensively, that she leaves many head-scratchers along the way. The Old Man appears to be a mythological Charon, who helps the dead make the journey to the other side, but Do hints that he’s also a putative murderer.
Moreover, the ambiguity, that one could view as intentional, leaves you wondering whether The Old Man and The Boy are actually one person or were they dead all along. On top of that come all the side notes, like two police officers who come knocking on The Old Man’s door in search for another missing girl.
It’s a lot to chew on.
Such a wide array of unclear facts becomes almost impossible to follow and make sense of. But frankly, Do cannot be blamed for this vague structure of the plot.
This narrative concept belongs to Do’s returning collaborator, Christopher Larsen (credited for “Three Sisters”). While fiddling with time Nolan-style, and sprucing up the story with a unique canvas of the exotic Laotian culture were exciting ideas, the plot screamed for more logic. It’s as if Larsen had an unstoppable train of thoughts, and couldn’t find the brakes to stop at the right stations.
Despite the trouble-generating plot, Do uses other tricks up her sleeve to still prove “The Long Walk” worthy of the effort. The clear-cut cinematography lets Do construct a visually consistent picture, even though the filmmaker incorporates just a few locations – an abandoned crossroads, a bamboo treehouse and a graveyard. In her lenses, Laos seems untamed and highly explorable.
Despite its muddled script, “The Long Walk” scratches the surface of some socio-economic and political issues present in Laos as well. In one particular scene, The Boy’s father gets brand new solar panels installed, but sustainable energy cannot help his dying wife or barely-make-ends-meet situation. By adding English-speaking investors who like crows flock to the treehouse, Do and Larsen laid foundations for a broader discussion concerning uneven and sometimes irrational concepts for development of poorer countries.
Interestingly, Do leans towards a few science fiction bits too. For example, Laotians have chips in their arms, a technology that plugs them all into a collective system of payments and government control. And I can’t forget about the horror bits, sprinkled across the entire canvas of the film – ghosts accompanying the main characters and mysterious deaths are there to meticulously build the film’s facade.
At the end of the day, it’s these delicate touches that add layers to Do’s direction, thus helping “The Long Walk” in its uphill battle against Larsen’s script.
The Long Walk (2019) – Culturally Hated or Culturally Loved?
As that genuine rarity, “The Long Walk” illustrates a tiny tidbit of the Laotian culture and life. The film’s genre commotion makes for an entertaining ride and the only downward slope – albeit heavily detrimental to the final outcome – is the actual story. Mattie Do has a keen eye for nicely shot frames too, and if only given a solid script, I can see her become an acclaimed director within a few years.
The Long Walk (2019)
Dir. Mattie Do
Hate Grade: 4.5/10
Overall judgment: Though confusing as a story, “The Long Walk” by Mattie Do brings a curious perspective to the untamed Laos, showing the country’s problems with a peculiar mix of genres.