Genre films are so much fun because they transcend audiences.
Sci-Fi and horror films from all over the world develop followings and fandoms in the U.S. and can often act as a gateway for American audiences to check out a country’s cinema. Mattie Do’s The Long Walk is my introduction to Laos cinema, and frankly, it’s an excellent jumping-on point. It’s a uniquely subtle sci-fi film, using elements of ghosts and time travel to explore loss, regret, and death through Do’s raw cinematic lens.
Set 50 years in the future, The Long Walk is about an old man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) who can see spirits trapped on earth, as he grieves over the death of his mother. His grief and guilt drive him to murder sick local women. When the police ask him to locate a missing woman with dementia, he befriends the woman’s daughter, Vilouna “Totlina” Phetmany (Chansamone Inoudom). While this is going on, a boy (Por Silatsa) finds a dying woman’s body and befriends her ghost. These intersecting stores all share common themes about how we all respond to loss.
Despite a premise with very high concept elements, The Long Walk is a mostly grounded story, focusing more on ambiance and character than flashy effects. It moves at a methodic pace, which can make following the narrative difficult, at times frustrating, but the film never lost me thanks heavily to Mattie Do’s direction. Her exquisite use of atmosphere and mood when shooting the village in Laos sucked me in, and her subtle sci-fi elements make this future feel more realistic as if it’s right around the corner. While the sci-fi elements make the themes of loss and grief more digestible, the realism of how they are presented makes the ideas more relatable. Her Laos village setting reinforces how the characters struggle through their anxiety and inability to move forward. She’s confident enough to tell her story through cinematic language, rather than get bogged down in exposition, even if it does require the audience to put in some work.
While the performances were great all around, Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy was the main standout. His captivating performance makes you feel the weight of his mother’s loss, as his facial expressions and heavy voice projects emotion in every scene. He has a silent charisma that makes him captivating to watch, as you feel every emotion clinging to his words.
Overall, The Long Walk succeeds with its dripping atmosphere and relatable themes. It’s a unique entry into the sci-fi genre and a great introduction to Laos cinema that I will personally be exploring. This was clearly a very personal story for Mattie Do, and I’m happy she told it. Having recently played at TIFF, Fantastic Fest, and the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, this film is worth being on the lookout for.
The Long Walk will be playing next at The Glasgow Film Festival.