Anatomy of a murderer by way of a trek through darkness, The Long Walk is a bleak, meditative horror film. It’s an intricate tale of the pain left behind by time, told from the perspective of a serial killer. A deeply emotional time travel story, this horror film from Laos should put the nation on the horror aficionado’s radar.
A Laotian hermit (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy), who we never hear named further than being referred to as The Old Man, is able to transport back in time by way of a ghost killed in a road accident. He is brought back to the time of his mother’s painful death, and the fifty years in between are unfolded to see the impact of the event. The hermit’s loneliness is archetypal, it’s representative of the loneliness that comes from losing one you love, and pushing others away.
It’s the kind of film that leaves you to want to sit in darkness after, because what else is there to do but process? It’s the ripping open of old wounds, and the messy solutions that have tried to heal them. A confrontation of past mistakes, the film is a long walk through morality, where it comes from, and how it gets lost. Some of the time-bending does grow convoluted, but the emotional explosion of the ending makes up for a great deal of the earlier confusion. The past and present are visually different, and the tone changes to match as the timelines grow closer and meet. When they meet, it is the meeting of hope and despair to see the one glimmer of hope torn down.
Director Mattie Do’s earlier feature, Dearest Sister, is available to stream on Shudder right now. Her film is another dark fairy tale, following a village girl who travels to the capital city to care for her wealthy blind cousin who can communicate with the dead. It’s fantastic to see some of the best slow-burn horror coming out of Laos, a country that has not been well-known on the cinematic map previously. She says the film is inspired by the deaths of both her mother and her dog, and the film twists a deeply personal story into horror wonderfully.
The disillusion of time is shown using a high pitched ringing sound that plays in the background of many scenes. This sound is awful, but does its job in making us deeply uncomfortable and tense watching the unpacking of painful memories before us. It’s also a bit slow, taking an hour to get to the hardcore genre film it is sold as, instead waiting in a meditative state to begin. There’s the what ifs, and the lives that never were; and there’s multiple paths that the old man who was once a young boy could have gone down if his mother had stayed alive.
Tarkovsky-esque slow cinema has made it into the public eye much more again lately, and the long takes here are sure to please. It’s like staring pain dead in the eye, asking it to back down, yet it only keeps looking back.
Deeply disturbing, The Long Walk may not be for everyone, but those willing to try are in for a moving, unsettling time. It’s a film about deep, terrifyingly strong grief that makes one grateful for those around them, and for having those people to hold onto for sanity. Unapologetic for its narrator’s actions, it presents impersonal death at face value, and never sugarcoats the inevitability of it all, while going deep inside the one death that is personal to the hermit. This third feature marks Mattie Do as one to watch, and certainly one to look into previous work from to discover hidden gems.