Review: ‘The Long Walk’ is a Paranormal Time Travel Epic

Director Mattie Do, the first female Lao director, has already made a great cultural impact by showcasing her country’s culture on the global stage with her previous films including Dearest Sister, the first horror film ever produced in Laos. Her latest film, The Long Walk, is an even more ambitious step forward with a sci-fi horror concept told in a grand time-traveling journey spanning decades. 

The Long Walk has already gained praise in the film festival circuit, where it played at the Venice Film Festival, TIFF, Fantastic Fest and others, and now will be released on demand March 1st. It has also been playing in select theaters in the US, the first Lao film to do so.

Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

The Long Walk follows the wandering life of The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy), a scavenger in a near-futuristic rural Laotian city that blends advanced technology with a traditional culture that caters to tourists. This man, shrouded in darkness and mystery, has the ability to see certain ghosts, including a mute woman who has been his walking companion for over 50 years after witnessing her death. 

Through this woman, he finds out he can travel 50 years into the past, right before his father abandons their family and his mother dies of tuberculosis, an event that has always haunted him. He attempts to prevent this in the past, but finds his actions have consequences on the future. 

This story is devastatingly bleak and heartbreakingly brutal. The sci-fi elements here are fantastic, especially blending with the Lao landscape and lifestyle. In particular, our broody protagonist is never seen without his futuristic vape, emphasizing pauses with large artificial smoke clouds.

The lead actor, Chanthalungsy, excellently portrays his flawed character, being both relatable and hateable for his choices and outlook. His gloomy, meditative perspective is always present and felt in his journey from beginning to end. 

Laos Horror Film The Long Walk

Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

His younger self, played by the adorable Por Silatsa, stands in opposition with his hardened adult self, experiencing joy, pain, fear and companionship in a younger, naive lens at a tumultuous time in his life. The contrast between this person at different time periods of his life and in society paint an interesting portrait of Laos through cause and effect relationships. 

All of the characters in this film are compelling and unique for the genre and subject. In fact, director Do has stated that her film is a sort of anti-”poverty porn” film, seeking to portray rural life in an authentic way, making for more dynamic characters. 

While this film takes place entirely in the lush forests of Laos farmland, there is still a Western presence felt. 

In The Boy’s young life, western NGOs continually visit his poor family’s farm to bring “progress.” This is framed as a disconnected, useless gesture that ignores the actual needs of the Lao people, such as installing solar panels on a farm that doesn’t even have a tractor. His father reacts to this by remarking, “at least we’ll have enough light to watch each other as we starve to death.”

The Long Walk Review

Image courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures

With this level of resentment built into The Long Walk, it’s no surprise that it ends on an incredibly dark, unexpected note that will sit in your stomach uneasily. 

The bleakness, however, does not bleed too heavily into the cinematography, that uses contrasted, gothic lighting, showcases the beauty and color of Laos. Set almost entirely outside, as many Lao farmhouses are open, the camera glides over the rural forest landscape, purveying it along with the story we as an audience watch unfold.  

Do is a director that should not be underestimated: with her long list of “firsts” for Lao cinema, she is surely one to keep up with for fans of artsy international horror. 

Her latest foray into the horror genre, The Long Walk, is her masterpiece. Focusing intensely on the complexities of human emotion, this film stays intimate while also engaging with a wider context. It blends a ghost story, with sci-fi and noir to make for a truly one-of-a-kind time travel odyssey through the darkness of humanity. 

If you happen to live near a theatrical showing, I highly recommend seeing this on the big screen, but if not, consider checking this one out when it hits the VOD market on March 1st. If you’re not familiar with Do’s other work, her previous horror film Dearest Sister can be watched on Shudder. Check out the trailer for The Long Walk below.