'Walking Out': Film Review | Sundance 2017

An involving story of father-son bonding interrupted by crisis.

A father and son are stranded on a deadly hunting trip in Alex and Andrew Smith's endurance tale.

Writers/directors Alex and Andrew Smith, who found some fans at Sundance 15 years ago with The Slaughter Rule, return with an old-fashioned man-versus-nature tale, Walking Out, in which the roles of father and son are reversed. Playing a son who must take the lead when a mishap strands him and his father (Matt Bomer) in the wintry wilds of Montana, Josh Wiggins makes an excellent and restrained stand-in for moviegoers who, more than likely, will have no idea what they'd do in his shoes. The fest circuit should respond warmly, though a lack of strong hooks may make it hard to attract interest from distribs.

Wiggins plays David, a Texas teen who sees his father just once a year when he visits Montana for a hunting trip. Though seeming to carry a good bit of resentment with him, especially when father Cal complains about his attachment to his phone, David clearly retains a buried need for paternal approval: He initially balks at Dad's announcement, "This year, you're huntin' big game," saying he has no need to kill a moose, but soon he gets on board, setting off toward a mountain spot where Cal has been tracking an animal for him.

Other hunters have been out here recently, though, leaving behind a mess; as Cal angrily points out their handiwork, the screenplay works in some references to his brand of hunters' ethics, in which eating what you kill is the only justification for the sport. When they come across a wounded bear cub, Cal's indignation gives way to anxious preparation, knowing that an angry adult will be around in no time.

The resulting action, brief but effectively frightening, leaves both men wounded, with Cal losing a great deal of blood and unable to walk. So the boy puts his father on his back, bravely promising he can carry him as long as Cal will stay conscious and guide him back through the forest.

As the script and performances dive inward, exploring David's ability to endure while sending Cal into memories of hunting trips with his own father (Bill Pullman), the movie uses Todd McMullen's fine scenic photography to show how stranded they are. Subtle call-backs — like a shot of David's bloodied mitten, reminding us how Cal warned him of animals' keen sense of smell — increase the sense of danger without requiring the Smiths to divert their attention from poignant father-son drama. Cal's memories of the boy's grandfather will, of course, eventually show these annual trips in a new light. If they make it home alive, it's hard to imagine David will have the same desire to share this outdoorsman legacy with his own future son.

Production companies: Harbinger Pictures, Co-Op Entertainment
Cast: Josh Wiggins, Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman
Directors-screenwriters: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith
Producers: Brunson Green, Laura Ivey
Executive producers: Bob Hayes, Katherine Ann McGregor, Carole Meiselman, Marc Simon, Charlsey Adkins, Rodrigo Garcia, Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis
Director of photography: Todd McMullen
Production designer: David Storm
Costume designer: Nicola Dunn
Editor: Michael Taylor
Composer: Ernst Reijseger   
Casting directors: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Sales: CAA

95 minutes