Walking Out

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Josh Wiggins and Matt Bomer in Walking Out - a father and son struggle to connect on any level until a brutal encounter with a predator in the heart of the wilderness leaves them both seriously injured. If they are to survive, the boy must carry his father to safety.
"Walking Out treads a familiar path but harks back to ideas that have been forgotten in many modern hunting myths."

Father and son bonding is usually at its most strained during the teenage years, and all the more so when the parents have separated and the son usually lives with his mother. American cinema - and literature - has a long tradition of tackling this through the fable of the hunting trip. Walking Out treads a familiar path but harks back to ideas that have been forgotten in many modern hunting myths, and in doing so engineers some interesting reversals in character archetypes.

Josh Wiggins is David, pre-emptively bored outside the city, finding solace in his phone until his father threatens to break it. So far, this is par for the course. But Matt Bomer, as Cal, is not the macho man we usually meet in this situations. In fact it's David who is excited by the idea of killing things, that being the only point he can see in the whole business. Though he grudgingly admits that the Montana wilderness is beautiful - Todd McMullen's cinematography makes that inarguable - he's not impressed by the idea of hiking up a mountain just for the sake of it.

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There's love between the two - both actors let us see that from the start - but they struggle to tolerate each other, Cal being the one who keeps having to give ground as he tries to bring the boy on side. He's gently but firmly trying to instil the notion that hunting is a means to an end, a way of getting food, and not something to do for kicks. Flashbacks to his childhood tell us how he learned this lesson for himself. For the most part, however, we remain in the present, because when Cal is injured, both hunters have to focus all their attention on getting off the mountain alive.

The test of such a story is in the telling. A little slow at first, this actually picks up in the second half when it's most at risk of sagging, when actions have become necessarily repetitive. Every threat offered by the environment and its wildlife is magnified by the hunters' situation, but the Smiths, directing, wisely keep this out of Grey territory. The mountain, the cold, blood loss - all these humble things can kill, and the threat they represent does more to put humans in their place than predation. There is also a keen understanding here of older American myths and of the link between humans and nature essential to survival in such extremes. A scene in whih Cal, lying alone, is visited by a deer has a spiritual quality that gives the film a resonance beyond its handsome visuals.

Though narratively slight, Walking Out is an effective fable which brings together not just father and son but the modern and the ancient; part of the ongoing process of America discovering itself.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2017
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Walking Out packshot
A teenager must summon all his strength so that he and his father can survive after an accident in the wilderness.

Director: Alex Smith, Andrew J Smith

Writer: David Quammen, Alex Smith, Andrew J Smith

Starring: Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman, Josh Wiggins, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone, Chaske Spencer, Ken White, Erik P Resel

Year: 2017

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2017

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