Those Who Walk Away Review : Message gets lost in the madness

I had to think for a bit after watching “Those Who Walk Away” because I felt that there was an important message being delivered

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Every year I try to make it to the annual horror movie festival in my neck of the woods (Kansas City, Mo.) called Panic Fest. Over the years I’ve talked with people about this event and a lot of times I get asked the same thing, “How can you enjoy low budget horror? It’s bad.” Well, here’s the thing. I don’t need a horror film to be from Blumhouse to appreciate low budget craft and I can ignore average acting if other elements are above par. Everyone’s gotta get their start somewhere. I’ve always been more likely to judge a big budget film more critically than I am a film put together with a shoestring budget and first time director. So when I say “Those Who Walk Away” is decent, I’m potentially only telling that to people who feel the same way about low budget horrors. Everyone else will watch it and go, “How can you enjoy low budget horror? It’s bad.”

Max (Stewart) is on a tinder date with Avery (Sperduto) and the nerves are palpable as they meet in-person for the first time in a park. Avery, a theater manager who’s also in school for literature, isn’t upfront with every little detail, apologizing profusely while also cushioning the blow of lying by saying that she’s genuinely interested in Max, and that’s why she’s being honest. This is one of many red flags as the two stroll through their town making idle chit chat and revealing their own personal demons. Avery’s personal demon is clearly lying, while Max’s personal demon is his emotional inability to take care of his ailing mother. This elongated conversation and revelations are setting up the film’s monster, which doesn’t arrive until the date begins taking bizarre turns.

I don’t want to reveal too much more about “Those Who Walk Away” because my attempt at the synopsis above does more than cover basic exposition, it covers the first half of the film. That’s right, the first 40ish minutes of the film (I didn’t pause to check) is a conversation/date between Max and Avery. While this kind of set-up helps establish our characters for the second half of the film, it also prevents this movie from ever developing its aesthetic. I say that because the second half of the film is like a found footage nightmare in a still livable home that more closely resembles a condemned shack. Max finds himself in a maze of horror, even though the audience feels no fear moving forward because we’ve already spent a good chunk of time watching a bad first date.

“Those Who Walk Away” employs a lot of single takes, attempting to pull a “Birdman” by tricking the audience into believing it’s all one single take even though the director and cinematographer aren’t as adept as Inarritu at fooling people. Even though they aren’t very good at tricking us, or much less scaring us, the visuals that are created are sometimes fascinating to pick apart and sometimes do offer a mirror to Max’s psyche. Actor Booboo Stewart really gets to shine through in the latter half of the film whereas I wasn’t sure in the first half if he was still stretching his acting legs or simply channeling an introverted man on a first date.

I had to think for a bit after watching “Those Who Walk Away” because I felt that there was an important message being delivered. However, I couldn’t quite pick through the noise to see the message as the credits began to roll. It’s a good ending, but it feels like such a misfire in terms of conveying what it wants to say. “Those Who Walk Away” offers up plenty of peculiar, surreal horror moments in it’s finale, but without a cohesive message the overall look and idea feels lost. It’s difficult for me to recommend “Those Who Walk Away” because the film’s title feels like such a self-fulfilling prophecy about the audience members who will get tired of waiting for the haunted house spooks to begin, and even those who do tough it out, will most likely find themselves walking away empty-handed.

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