The Laotian horror movie scene isn’t pervasive. There are only around ten films in existence from the country between Vietnam and Thailand. However, when something comes out of the country, you know it’s going to be special. For the last ten years, Laotian horror has become synonymous with director Mattie Do. The Long Walk marks Do’s third directorial feature to date, as well as the first film from Laos to be screened theatrically in the US. Do is Laos’s first and only female director, and she is proving to be a force within the horror genre. If you’re a fan of Shudder’s Creepshow, you may have already seen some of Do’s work, cowriting last season’s “Drug Traffic” with The Long Walk writer Christopher Larsen. Do wrote the episode based on old Asian folktales, and it’s one of the more disturbing monster stories in the series. The Long Walk continues her folktale storytelling, creating a magical yet dread-filled atmosphere that captures the beauty of Laos in a chilling time-altering story.
Set in the beautiful landscape of the Laotian countryside, The Long Walk is a contemplative and atmospheric look at grief. The film begins with an Old Man (Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) removing a bike from the woods off of the road, and everything manages to take off from there. We watch as he strips the parts from the old bike and is joined by a silent companion (Noutnapha Soydara) on the road into town to sell the parts. When he returns home, things get a bit strange. He doses a cup of tea, unlocks a door, and reveals a dead woman on the floor. The Old Man cleans her up and buries her body, revealing to us that our main character has some explaining to do.
Do’s introduction is captivating and boldly presents itself without much explanation, displaying confidence in Larson’s script. That makes sense, given they’ve worked together on all of Do’s features so far. Regardless, The Long Walk is one of the most beautiful slow-roll horror films I’ve ever seen, revealing its story in ways I didn’t see coming. As The Long Walk continues, the narrative changes focus from The Old Man to a Young Boy (Por Silatsa).
The Boy walks the road with his sick, benevolent mother (Chanthamone Inoudome) and helps her with a vegetable stand before being told to return to his aggressive father. While on the road, he notices a patch of blood and proceeds to investigate. He finds a young woman dying of her injuries in the woods off the road and holds her hand when she begs him not to leave her there alone. He then returns to his home without saying a word about the incident. The next day, while at the vegetable stand with his mother, he notices the young woman from the day before haunting him, and it’s quickly revealed that this is the origin story of how The Old Man and his unageing walking companion of fifty years came to be.
I’m tempted to use the term flashback, but that wouldn’t be accurate given what transpires throughout The Long Walk. Much of this ghost story is told linearly, going back to show how the past affects the present, unraveling an enigmatic mystery, and showing how off-track our values can become. These stories converge in a profound way through the ghost girl’s ability to manipulate time. As the future tries to reconcile the past, through The Old Man’s determination to ease his caring mother’s pain, the gift proves itself to be a curse that unmasks a monster.
Beyond the plot of past and future, a whole other element emerges when The Old Man, who communes with the dead, is asked by police to aid them in their search for a missing woman. The audience recognizes the subject of their search as the dead body from the start of the film, and things begin to get tense. When the woman’s daughter Lina (Vilouna Phetmany) gets involved, it becomes sociopathic. Years of isolation, anger, and betrayal shift into focus as the story plays out and the hermitic Old Man begins opening up to a living soul for the first time in years.
In my efforts to compare The Long Walk to anything, I could only think it fits as a horror equivalent to the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination or Rian Johnson’s Looper. While those may be the closest comparisons, they don’t even begin to do the drama of the film justice. It contains the time travel element, but it’s so much more human than that. It is, in a way, a monster movie of considerable depth. Abstractly, perhaps it is a little like Frankenstein. Many elements have created this monster, but this darkness within him caused by the past keeps him cold and unfeeling like the dead flesh of a corpse as if Frankenstein decided to turn his back on a society that would have allowed the events of the past to transpire.
The Long Walk is a very layered and deeply moving folktale. It is more atmospheric than it is outright frightening, but it’s one I know I’ll be referencing for years to come. I would encourage those with the ability to do so to see this affecting film in a theater to behold the majesty of its gorgeous cinema. The color grading is fantastic, the cinematography is stunning, and the film is artfully done. Chanthalungsy is pitch-perfect, bringing a depth to solemnity unmatched by many of today’s Hollywood actors. I enjoyed the movie so much that I dove right into Mattie Do’s filmography directly following, streaming Dearest Sister on Shudder and finding Chanthaly on the director’s YouTube page. It was enjoyable to see so many familiar faces from The Long Walk—Chanthalungsy included—in the older titles. I enjoyed the whole trifecta of films the director had cooked up over these last ten years, but I can easily tell you The Long Walk is the director’s finest film to date. Mattie Do is a horror icon in the making, and The Long Walk is a masterpiece of vivid and imaginative storytelling. I can’t wait to see what is planned next for the uniquely talented director.
The Long Walk is now showing in select cinemas and will be available on VOD beginning March 1.