Review by William J. Hammon, Creator of I Actually Paid to See This blog
There’s a truly wonderful moment in Alex and Andrew Smith’s survival drama, Walking Out, that not only encapsulates the themes and dramatic tension of the film itself, but all of the major modern wilderness films that came before it. Sitting against a tree, hunter Cal (Matt Bomer), sees a young deer. It approaches him, stares deep into his eyes, gets so close that it could almost lick his face, and then wanders off.
It’s one of the most beautiful images in a film that’s chock full of them. Cinematographer Todd McMullen never misses an opportunity to show off the stunning scenery of rural Montana, juxtaposing the vast open land with the intimate nature of story, both in the familial aspect and in the creeping danger of each passing moment. Throughout the proceedings, the camera work evokes images reminiscent of The Grey, The Revenant, and Into the Wild.
After more than a year’s estrangement, Cal welcomes his teenage son David (Josh Wiggins) to his remote home for a long-awaited father-son hunting trip. Even though the pair have spent a long time apart, Cal is stoically thrilled at this rite of passage for David, dead set on getting the lad his “first kill,” something Cal accomplished at the same age on a trip with his late father, Clyde, played in flashbacks by Bill Pullman. While the pair have hunted quail before (and do so again to help David shake off the rust), the big game is a moose that Cal’s been tracking for several days.
Now, at first a lot of this generational drama seems forced, and the pacing is off by a considerable margin. Nearly half the film is devoted to Cal’s frustrations at David not being “man” enough for his tastes, as being a typical teenager, David’s more interested in his phone than a gun. There are points where Cal even goes so far as to seem obsessed with the idea of murder, like he truly can’t be satisfied until David takes an animal’s life. It’s not until much later in the film that we learn why Cal finds this so important, and thanks to the slow character development in the first act, his need to validate his life and parenting choices feels largely misplaced.
It’s only when we truly get into the wilderness that the pieces start to fit together…