This is a story about a father and daughter who have rejected society and everything else the world has to offer. It’s an intriguing situation but the film never delves into the cause of their plight nor deigns to make a comment. It’s just a slice of life that, unfortunately, we all know is there.
Will (Ben Foster), is a disturbed ex-military vet. He’s living rough with his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), in the forests of Portland, Oregon. They live off the land and go into town only when Will needs to pick up his V.A. check. Tom has been trained by her father to guard their seclusion and she never questions his word. But one day she’s spotted by a hiker who alerts the authorities. The two are taken from the wilderness and their journey begins.
Will makes it clear he has no desire to be sociable, but his daughter is actually the opposite. She grabs at the first chance she gets to make new friends, and her only worry is that her peers will find it strange that she grew up in a park. Her father is indifferent to her concerns and also to anything else she might need. It’s only ever about him, which makes him an unsympathetic character and leaves us with only Tom to love. This is easy to do but she’s so passive there’s no gleam of hope running alongside the tragedy that the audience knows, for her sake, must end.
It’s never revealed whether it was the death of Tom’s mother, which is referenced very briefly, that sent Will over the edge, or his time in the military. But what is clear is that the force that drives him is a deep-seated hatred of conformity, which doesn’t fit easily as a reaction to either of those previous events. So we know the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’, and this creates a vacuum between the audience and the people on the screen. We just never get to know them. But there again, they barely know each other.
Most of the film is spent with just the two of them, yet there is hardly a moment of intimacy. They’re not just lost from society, but from each other, and the walls that keep them apart were there even when they were living in a tent. If they could have found their way out of that wilderness, everything else would have taken care of itself.
Directed by Debra Granik.
Script adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini.
Produced by Bron Studios
Distributed by Bleecker St Media
United Kingdom and United States only, June 29th 2018