The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
I reviewed Mattie Do’s directorial debut, Dearest Sister, back in 2020’s October Horror Movie Challenge. While I wasn’t entirely sold, it was promising enough that I wanted to see where Do’s career might head. Then “Drug Traffic”, a segment of the Creepshow TV series written by Do and Christopher Larsen, her husband and regular collaborator, proved a fun and bloody romp. So when I saw Do had another feature available to stream, it went straight on my list for this year.
The Long Walk is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Our protagonist, whose name we never learn, is a hermit in his early sixties. He lives alone in his old family home in rural Laos, salvaging scrap metal and selling it at a nearby village. The only thing that seems important to him is the roadside shrine he maintains. Oh, and the dead woman who follows him around.
His ghostly companion was killed in a road accident some 50 years before. Our protagonist stumbled across her in her final moments and kept her company as she died. They have become inseparable since then, although the young woman never speaks.
This ghost seems to exist outside time, providing a direct connection between the present day and our protagonist’s childhood. When she moves between these times, she can take our protagonist with her, allowing the older man to go back and try to repair some of the trauma of his childhood.
These attempts largely centre on the protagonist’s mother, who is dying of a chest ailment. His wastrel father drinks the family’s meagre funds away before running off to the capital in search of work, leaving his wife to die alone. Each time our protagonist tinkers with this past, however, some of the details change. But is anything actually improving?
Why is the ghost of this young woman bound to our protagonist? What is her motivation for moving him through time? And our are protagonist’s intentions really as wholesome as they appear?
The Long Walk is largely set some 50 years in the future, with flashbacks to our present day. This is handled relatively subtly, however. We see the occasional piece of futuristic technology, but daily life in rural Laos seems largely unchanged between the eras. As someone who can remember what life was like 50 years ago, this strikes me as fairly realistic. Not every part of the world is as affected by change as we might imagine.
Our protagonist does not hide his ability to see the dead and the people around him largely accept it. The police and a number of supporting characters enter the story because they want him to find the body of a missing woman, who they presume is dead. The protagonist’s matter-of-factness about his abilities is refreshing. When the daughter of the missing woman is surprised just to be given a written note instead of the séance she was expecting, he asks her, “Was that not enough of a show for you?”
The ghosts of The Long Walk operate by a different set of rules than we might expect, even beyond their strange relationship with time. While only certain people can see them, they appear to be very corporeal. They are largely uninterested in the kinds of active haunting we usually see in films, simply standing around in silence. While this is still eerie, they don’t seem to want to scare people.
As I’d hoped, The Long Walk sees Mattie Do and Christopher Larsen hitting their stride. This is a strange, beautiful film, rich with imagination and darkness. It has been a long time since I have seen an Asian ghost story that so neatly avoids all the clichés of the genre. Everything about The Long Walk feels fresh and original.
While my synopsis might make The Long Walk sound sentimental or even uplifting, it very much is not. I have held back a number of important plot points to avoid spoilers. This is a story that will draw you in and then hurt you. It is tender at times, with beautifully observed characters, and it lulls you into forgetting that you are watching a horror film. When the time comes for things to turn nasty, however, it does not hold back.
Appropriately, perhaps, The Long Walk is long for a horror film, coming in at just under two hours. Despite this length and its comparatively gentle pace, it is never less than completely engaging. Between the simple beauty of its setting, the strong performances from all the cast, and the growing sense of unease about where things might be heading, I barely noticed the time passing.
I’m not sure if The Long Walk will be my film of the month, but it’s definitely going to haunt me for some time.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!