Leave No Trace (2018)
Director: Debra Granik
Writer: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Peter Rock (based on the novel by)
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomas Harcourt McKenzie, Dana Millican, Jeff Kober, Isaiah Stone
Filmed among the gorgeous greenery of Eagle Fern Park in Oregon, Leave No Trace is the beautifully soft and quiet story of a father silently struggling with his demons, and his daughter who loyally follows him. Peaceful, thoughtful and non-threatening, this performance led film takes a non-invasive look at the wide-reaching impact of trauma, and the journey that someone will take to escape it.
Granik's film is a slow burn if there ever was one, bordering dangerously close to monotony, only just managing to avoid it. The film's running momentum is established soon, and deviates very little from that point on. At times it feels like a hook is starting to appear that will yank us into a more energetic phase of the film, but such a hook never actually appears. Your heart rate will remain steady through this journey.
Instead, Leave No Trace remains peaceful throughout, allowing the story to unfold more naturally and making space for the performances of its two leads. This film's power is found within the subtleties of their relationship, and following their emotional and geographical path is what motivates this film towards its tender conclusion.
What it lacks in inertia, however, it makes up for with its wonderfully thoughtful and soothing soundtrack, a soft medley of delicate folk music often communicated via a lonesome guitar. Accompanying a visually stunning backdrop of North American forestry - where rich and vivid green and yellow hues dominate much of the screen - this sensory combination creates a film which is infinitely pleasant to watch. Leave No Trace is unlikely to get your blood pumping, but neither will it bore you.
Foster delivers a quietly powerful performance as Will, a damaged father who seems desperate to retreat from the urban world most of us live in. We meet and follow him as he battles with some unnamed mental illness (likely PSTD) and witness the effect of this fight on his teenage daughter. Foster's performance is measured yet powerful, with his mostly quiet Will communicating more through his erratic and increasingly bizarre behaviour than through his words.
Despite her youth, McKenzie effortlessly delivers a performance which can easily match Foster's as his on-screen daughter Tom, a fiercely loyal but perhaps naïve young girl whose devotion to her family is at odds with her own ambitions. The film is shown mostly through her perspective, and her puzzlement towards the actions of her father will mirror that of the audience, while she carries the weight of her role with a confidence which will make you happy to follow her on this journey.
Leave No Trace tells a tender and thoughtful story slowly and quietly, propelled forward almost solely by two fantastically expressive performances. This is by no means a thrill-ride, with a steady, no frills story-line which ticks along at a pace which is determined early on, but with a plot which still allows the more emotive moments to punch through, and punch through hard.
In one line: Leave No Trace is a peaceful and pensive tale of a tested family bond, set amongst the beautiful greenery of North America.