Leave No Trace paints a heartbreaking portrait of a father-daughter duo who live off the grid in an urban Portland forest. The father, Will (Ben Foster), suffers from PTSD and a fundamental lack of trust in civil society; he has raised his daughter, Thom (Thomasin McKenzie) to feel the same. Their woodland routine is idyllic: they forage for mushrooms, gather water in a tarp, and play chess under the eaves of canvas. But when a moment’s mistake brings them into contact with the real world—a world of church obligations, social workers, and mandatory schooling—the pair struggle to stay together as their identities begin to diverge. Will continues to reject the trappings of modern civilization, while Thom grows closer to a sense of normalcy.
Director Debra Granik’s 2010 Winter’s Bone brought Jennifer Lawrence’s talent to a mainstream audience; Leave No Trace will likely do the same for 17-year-old Thomasin McKenzie. Her acting, like Foster’s, is flawless, and their father-daughter rapport rings true from the film’s first moments. Granik conveys Will’s PTSD with unflinching empathy; his trauma is palpable, but never sensationalized. This level of empathy carries over to the film’s central question: How do two people with fundamentally different needs continue to care for each other, in the face of danger, pain, and poverty? Leave No Trace’s resolution will surprise you, but once you see it, you won’t be able to think of a more fitting ending to this harrowing yet delicate drama. (5/5)
Photo: Leave No Trace, by Katherine Matthews.
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Victoria Albert is a Boston-born graduate journalism student. She covers reproductive justice, health policy, and feminism, and has written for In These Times and Alternet. She tweets at @victoria_alb3.