Mattie Do, Laos’ first and only female film director, premiered her third feature at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. Now, audiences can finally watch The Long Walk on VOD and experience this devastating, meditative time-travel thriller for themselves. The film explores grief, guilt, and the weight of personal accountability through a mesmerizing mix of sci-fi, horror, mystery, and drama. An intense slow burn that genre fans should put at the top of their watchlists, The Long Walk is an elegiac exploration of the destruction wrought by all-too-human impulses.
In the near future, an unnamed old man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) lives on the outskirts of a small Laotian village. He walks with a ghostly young woman (Noutnapha Soydara) along the road between his home and the center of town. He has walked with this woman for 50 years, he says, and the viewer soon watches the man’s younger self (Por Silatsa) meet the woman for the first time. The boy’s mother (Chanthamone Inoudome) is dying, and when the old man discovers that the ghostly woman can travel through time, he sees an opportunity to ease his mother’s suffering. The more he changes in the past, however, the uglier his present becomes, and the old man learns some hard lessons about the dangers of self-interest and meddling with fate.
There’s a naturalistic ease to The Long Walk that belies its hybrid-genre narrative. The sound design and cinematography signal jumps between eras, but in both the past and the future, they present understated portraits of realistic people with commonplace problems. The boy and his family, along with the rest of the village, are poor, but the film never treats them with pity or condescension; only compassion. (The Americans who descend upon the boy’s family farm, install solar panels instead of giving his father [Vithaya Sombath] the tractor he needs, then smugly say, “You’re welcome,” bring more than enough condescension on their own.) The boy’s mother is dying of tuberculosis — a bad cough that’s been going around the village, according to one shopkeeper — and as anyone who’s lost a parent can tell you, it’s a common tragedy that feels anything but common. It feels like the world is ending (or should be ending, if it had any decency), and the old man decides to do everything in his power to make it as painless for his mother as possible.
It’s an understandable impulse, perhaps even a noble one. But the old man exploits the ghost’s power, using it for increasingly selfish reasons and never letting her spirit rest. His so-called mission of mercy doesn’t stop with his mother, as the viewer learns through sharply executed and agonizing plot reveals. Christopher Larsen’s script is efficient and unsparing, letting viewers come to gut-wrenching realizations on their own through the smallest hints in dialogue and scenery. The relationship between the boy and the old man is fascinating, blurring the lines of innocence and guilt, leaving only the heavy weight of regret behind.
The Long Walk is masterful genre storytelling. This powerful tale of ghosts and killers explores the ways that grief can twist and gnarl your soul if you let it. The film manages to fray your nerves and tug at your heartstrings at the same time. It’s taken a few years for Mattie Do’s brilliant movie to reach a wider audience, but now that it’s here, fans of slow-burn sorrow and creeping dread should make time to see this gently devastating film.