THE STORY – An old Laotian hermit discovers that the ghost of a road accident victim can transport him back in time fifty years to the moment of his mother’s painful death.
THE CAST – Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, Vilouna Phetmany & Por Silatsa
THE TEAM – Mattie Do (Director) & Christopher Larsen (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 116 Minutes
By Sara Clements
Bones lay forgotten on the forest floor, and an elderly man places an orange at his spirit house. This fixture ensures a balance between the natural and spiritual realms and is an important custom to the Lao people and their religion, Satsana Phi. Mattie Do’s begins “The Long Walk” directly with the introduction of the traditions of her people. A mix of animism and Buddhist beliefs, the people of Laos are incredibly in tune with the supernatural. Everything possesses a spiritual essence according to animism, and it encompasses the belief that there exists no barrier between those of the living and the dead. Spirits, or Phi, inhabit all things and can interact with the living, protecting them or acting with malicious intent. The influence of lost souls and the haunting memory of his mother’s death have followed The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) for 50 years, and the pain he carries, along with his psychic abilities, changes his life more than he anticipated.
Christopher Larsen pens a spiritualist journey of loss and regret through a futuristic lens. Rooted in the sci-fi genre, the film incorporates future tech like a chip implanted in an arm for use as a clock or to make transactions – being glued to our phones having a permanence attached. But if it weren’t for the time suddenly appearing on The Old Man’s arm with a touch, you wouldn’t know the film was set in the future. Technology leaves third-world countries behind, advancing too quickly to catch up and unable to slowly grow accustomed to that change like the rest of the world. Microchips are just one part that plays into the film’s genre influences. It has, of course, the paranormal, but also the murder elements of horror with a bit of time travel sprinkled in.
The Old Man’s introduction isn’t a flattering one, as the audience discovers he has a dead body in his house. He’s under suspicion for the murder of a local woman, but he manages to convince the police of his innocence. Instead, they appeal to The Old Man to try to find her body by speaking to her spirit. He denies having that ability. Despite having a trophy shelf, his actions are more Kevorkian than Bundy. Still, an aspect of his character gets lost as the shroud that covers him inches lower to reveal more about his life and the mystery surrounding him.
The film quickly shifts to a scene with a boy and his mother. The Boy (Por Silatsa) comes across a blood trail leading into the forest. He finds a woman severely injured and stays with her until she dies. We learn the bones in the film’s introduction are hers and that The Old Man is The Boy. The Phi was believed to influence the natural world, including human illness, so it’s no surprise that when it’s revealed that his mother (Chanthamone Inoudome) is sick, The Boy begins to see a woman (Noutnapha Soydara) in the road – the same woman we can see following The Old Man. With the loss of a mother and abandonment of a father (Vithaya Sombath), all the boy has, and ever will have, are ghosts. This woman on the road is the first spirit The Old Man ever saw as a young boy. She’s a haunting presence that never speaks but guides the story forward.
The past and present of The Old Man’s life constantly diverge in curious ways, and it gets even more complicated when he learns that the young woman can bring him back and forth in time. This time travel element is another nod to its sci-fi heart, and tampering with the past begins to affect The Old Man’s own heart, as well as his mind. However, it’s not clear if he’s losing his mind, unable to discern reality from the spiritual, or if there’s some alternate reality aspect at play. The film begins to lose itself a bit, just as The Old Man does, and there’s a resulting period where the film, unfortunately, drags on.
As “The Long Walk” shows, the effects of heartbreak and loss can last a lifetime. By looking at one person’s life at both ends of its timeline, we see the manifestation of external expressions of pain, followed by a numbness that may be confused with healing. A score out of a horror film that sounds like the wailing of a trapped spirit hangs over the piece as The Old Man acknowledges regrets and his pain in a blazing act of letting go. The titular long walk is one of life, and it may be slow at points, but Do’s third feature carries both poignancy and sweetness in the end as the circle comes to a satisfying completion.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Mattie Do incorporates sci-fi elements with the Lao people’s spiritual beliefs to create a poignant genre piece. The performances impress.
THE BAD – It starts to drag on as it loses itself in its time travel aspect.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS – None