The Long Walk (Mattie Do, 2019): Death, Damnation & Deliverance

Writing calmly about Mattie Do’s The Long Walk is difficult. But sometimes you just have to be honest and shout (digitally) about a damn fine film. In all honesty, what I want to do is grab people by the shoulders like a crazed John Carpenter character and say: have you seen the way to horror? It is Mattie Do! But I’m not that creepy and there’s a pandemic on. I will say to you, reader: Mattie Do is everything I want from a horror filmmaker.

Thanks to LAAPFF for programming this film. While Mattie Do is California-born, she lives and works out of Laos and is Laos’ first (and only) female filmmaker (as of the date of this review). Platforming her work is critical to women in genre-filmmaking and the Laotian cinema world in general. The LAAPFF has featured a litany of incredible films all by, for and about Asian women. Effective on regional and global levels, it is a continual joy and inspiration to watch and write about these films. My great hope is that these films play everywhere, not just in festivals. Everyone should see this work.

I like to know as little about a film as possible before I see it. I call it the “Tabula Rosa approach.” No trailer, no reviews, no reading of descriptions or reviews. Genre & country are usually enough for me and occasionally if someone I know says: YEAH, that was awesome, I listen to them. 

All I knew about The Long Walk before watching was that it was Laotian and a horror movie. I am BEYOND glad that was all I knew. Deftly written by Chris Larsen and hauntingly lensed by Matthew Macar, Mattie Do’s direction makes this movie a genuine force to be reckoned with.

I’m going to try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. I don’t want to say too much. Honestly?

JUST SEE THE DAMN MOVIE. IT’S LIKE NOTHING ELSE YOU’VE SEEN BEFORE.

Admittedly, there are some aspects to this movie that make it a subjective hole-in-one for me. So here are a few of my personal sweet spots and why The Long Walk is definitely one of those films that was “made for me” but may not be everyone’s film. 

First of all, it has the “told through a kid’s eyes” aspect. I love films like that. Germany: Year Zero (Roberto Rosselini, 1948), Come & See (Elem Klimov, 1985), and Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952) are all films told through the perspective of a child and films that I consider favorites. They are also some of the. Most. Disturbing. Films. Ever. While this film isn’t Klimov-level, it certainly holds its own and the way Mattie Do utilizes the child’s perspective in this film was a good call. Her sensitivity to innocence and betrayal was perfectly balanced, depicting the kind of confusion and discomfort only a child can feel.

The tragic life of the young boy (played exquisitely by Por Silatsa) is certainly a story we’ve seen before, but it is in the telling that the dynamism becomes real. Do’s regional specifications and temporal involvements of modernization are what drive this part of the film. What would be a simple dysfunctional family story is transformed into grounded work and distinct circumstances in small town Laotian life.

The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is one of the great new figures in modern horror cinema. Chanthalungsy’s performance is just mind-blowing. I am desperate for more people to watch this film so they meet him (and, selfishly, so we can talk about his narrative!). Rarely has such a calming character led me on such a beautiful and horrific ride. Inspiring empathy, anger, nausea, pity and frustration, this is a fucking horror movie in every sense of the word.

The Long Walk is a meditation on ghosts (personal and supernatural), death (natural and not-so-natural) and concepts of growth and stagnation. The underlying narrative of technology in the Laotian countryside plays a critical role, upping the ante and bringing different kinds of monstrosities to the landscape. This language might not be making it sound sexy, so like- if you need that kind of review or recommendation? Let me reassure you- this is a scary and messed-up film!  

Playing with ideas of horror and science fiction with skillful fluidity, The Long Walk will make genre-rule-obsessed viewers uncomfortable as hell.

To those viewers:
Concede the fact that fantastic cinema can work within and between genres. Genres are like gender: fluid as fuck and that’s how they SHOULD be. To produce quality art like The Long Walk, you need to be able to be slippery while maintaining suspense, terror, and the right to whip out OMGWTF moments at the right time.

And I live for those shifts when they are done well. This was absolutely an exercise in How To Do It. Every Western filmmaker who tries (and fails) should take some classes from this film. Big ups on this. It wasn’t exploitative, it was smooth, and it kept on rocking the film. That third act. Hot damn. I shouted at my screen: “OH hell no. What????? No way. Shiiiiiit.” On the other hand, my cat then went into the other room. He may not be a fan. 

Finally, while the film features men as the protagonists what hit me hard was that their stories were actually entrance points to a larger exploration of women and women’s experiences. Like horror is wont to do, The Long Walk viciously reveals some of the worst parts of humanity. But it does so in a nuanced and complex way. A road trip of masculinity and growth, this movie takes a scalpel to gender issues and power structures, ripping those bodies open like a drunk mortician, allowing us to revel in the pure unadulterated pain, joy and liberation that exudes from that screen.

Part of the LAAPFF, this film can be seen through the Eventlive link here starting on October 15, 2020. It’s only up for a few days so get on it!!! This film is only available to viewers in Southern California (excluding San Diego County) from October 15, 2020 at 12pm PT to October 18, 2020 at 11:59pm PT

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