The Long Walk
by George Wolf
Even before the opening credits, The Long Walk (Bor Mi Vanh Chark) is a fascinating film.
The near-future setting that mixes sci-fi, horror and mystery thriller themes is interesting enough. But after a two-year wait for release, it becomes the first Lao film to screen theatrically in the States, as well as the latest project from Mattie Do, Laos’ first and only female director and the only Laotian filmmaker to work in the horror and fantastic genres.
If Do felt any added pressure from all those firsts and onlys, it doesn’t show. She crafts Christopher Larsen’s script into an emotional, compelling and culturally rich tale of life and death and afterlife.
The Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) sees ghosts. It started when he was The Boy (Por Silatsa) and first encountered The Girl (Noutnapha Soydara) dying on the side of the road.
The ghost of The Girl became a silent friend to The Boy, and now, some 50 years later, The Old Man finds that his spiritual guide can transport him back in time to when his mother was near death from illness.
Alongside The Old Man’s time-traveling quest to ease his mother’s pain, he’s contacted in the present by Lina (Vilouna Phetmany), a woman whose mother is missing and presumed dead. Lina has heard of The Old Man’s psychic abilities, and seeks his help in locating the body so her mother’s spirit can find peace.
Do is in no hurry here, and not interested in clearly marking when the time or narrative thread is shifting. But stick with it and look closely to find another layer revealed that connects past to present in this Loatian village, along with subtle nods to the poverty and governmental policies that are no friend to lengthy life spans.
Ultimately, The Long Walk is more atmospheric than scary, and more enigmatic than thrilling, with even Do and Larsen (who are married) disagreeing over interpretations during a recent Q&A. But give it your time and attention, and the film will reward you with multiple stories in one, inviting you to consider universal themes from intimate new perspectives.