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Mattie Do’s The Long Walk was one of the most surprising films of Fantastic Fest. Not only because of its quality (it is amazing), but because of how layered and emotional its story is. It’s a beautiful film that sticks in your head and allows you to just sit with it and ruminate. Hours later, you will have uncovered a completely different angle of the film that just makes it shine even brighter.

Set in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the film is an understated science fiction story that lets its characters move ahead of the fantasy elements. The film opens on an old hermit man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy). The man is poor and acquires money by scavenging for different materials and objects that he can sell. He keeps to himself, with the exception of a silent ghost woman who walks the long road from his home to the village with him every day.

One day, he learns that this woman has the power to cross time, and he soon intersects with himself as a child, in the terrible period just before he lost his mother to a long illness. The tragic memories from his childhood lead him to try to make changes to his own past in an attempt to correct harsh realities that he has faced over the decades.

The film is a constantly evolving meditation on how actions have effects and consequences, and how not all mistakes can be corrected. Sometimes, we just have to accept what life deals us and make the best of it. Sometimes, the best of intentions can turn us into the very monsters we always feared.

The slow nature of Do’s film sets the stage for a story that meanders thoughtfully around its characters and their lives as they try to deal with the harsh realities that they face—namely, death. Though it is a natural part of life, accepting the death of a loved one (like the boy will soon have to do with his mother), is an impossibly large task. The process can be painful and prolonged and ugly, and the film explores the ramifications that this level of grief can have.

The Long Walk is an apt title, as the film asks audiences to accompany it on its winding path. We might pause here and there to entertain a passing thought or take in the scenery, but when it is all said and done, it is about the journey and the things we realize along the way. The film takes us to some unexpected places, uncovering new truths and shining new lights on everything we see. It’s a beautiful, contemplative, and powerful viewing experience.

Movie Score: 5/5

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