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“Those Who Walk Away” is a dark, haunted house tale about the monsters we face and the ones we create through the choices we make.

THOSE WHO WALK AWAY just landed on digital (2/11/22). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

I really wanted to love this film because I really love the idea of this film.

Taking inspiration in part from the chilling short story from Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973), the foundation exists here for something special. Unfortunately, the efforts to build upon that foundation fall far short of expectations.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Spencer Moleda, director Robert Rippberger had some lofty ambitions for Those Who Walk Away, and he does his best to obfuscate obvious budget constraints under a flash of fancy camera work and cinematic gimmicks. But this only serves to muddy an already murky storyline.

Rippberger explains his unique approach to shooting the film:

“We really went the distance and did not hold back, despite shooting the film in a series of continuous takes much like Hitchcock’s ROPE. While many would see this as sacrificing the tools of storytelling, it was really doubling down on connecting with audiences in the often more troubling moments left out between cuts in a traditional film.”

While I appreciate the creative approach to visual storytelling, the cinema verité style of simulated single-take filmmaking feels tedious in a film that could have greatly benefited from more purposeful editing to enhance the tension and keep the film from languishing heavily through most of its runtime.

At an hour and 34 minutes, it’s a relatively quick watch. But the problematic pacing makes it feel considerably longer, and there’s barely enough story to fill a short, much less a feature film.

With an artsy opening credits scene and an unnerving transition to happy people on a beautiful day, juxtaposed with an ominous score, the film gets off to a promising start.

“Look forward to the worst decisions of your life.”

We then meet our protagonist, Max (Booboo Stewart). He’s awkwardly talking to a friend on the phone about his upcoming Tinder date. The conversation lasts far too long and feels stilted and unnatural. And the poorly-executed split-screen, followed by a needless sight gag, is jarring.

I believe the scene is meant to establish the mental state of Max, who casually laments at one point, “I feel like I’m losing my grip on reality. I might do something terrible today.”

But it’s far too much exposition and does very little to deepen your understanding of, or empathy for, the character.

This arduous opening also seems unnecessary given how much of the film — the entire first act, in fact — consists almost entirely of banter between Max and his date, Avery (Scarlett Sperduto). And it’s here we learn that both Max and Avery have pasts they wish to escape and guilt over decisions they’ve made. Avery’s pain has made her a bit cold and reckless, while Max struggles with self-confidence and the ability to stand up for himself.

There’s some charm in the way their date unfolds.

The way it’s shot and scripted lends to it feeling like a very natural encounter — giving the film a voyeuristic feel.

“Why settle for a horror movie when you can see the real thing?”

It’s as if we are spying on two people getting to know each other amidst a flurry of nerves and self-conscious awkwardness. But it’s also painfully prolonged and feels a bit of a slog to get through before the climax of the film.

Additionally, there’s nothing particularly likable about Avery, a veritable Horn of Amalthea when it comes to red flags.

Despite an obvious physical attraction between two very pretty people, there’s little in the way of actual chemistry — and very little reason to understand why Max would willingly take Avery up on her suggestion to visit a rumored real-life haunted house following a fairly disastrous date.

It takes almost 40 minutes before day turns to night and the couple arrives at the abandoned home of Rotcreep, the boogeyman of local legend who can rot your body and soul with one touch.

We get a tour of the home, which Avery explains has been abandoned for half a decade, though it seems to have accumulated multiple decades of decay. To the credit of Rippberger and production designer Sonia Foltarz, the set design is effectively horrific and immersive, and it feels like the film may have finally hit its stride in its final act.

After an unsurprising reveal about the real reason for this date from hell, the remainder of the film focuses on Max’s attempt to survive the night, alongside a young boy named Rudy (Bryson JonSteele) who Max finds hiding in a closet. The interactions between Max and Rudy are as cringe-inducing as those between Max and Avery, though mercilessly much briefer.

Finally, at just past the 50-minute mark, we get our first shadowy glimpse of Rotcreep (Nils Allen Stewart), and it takes another 10 minutes before we get our first — and only — look at his terrifying visage.

It’s unfortunate we get so little of the film’s most compelling element.

“Sometimes there’s more reality in what’s far-fetched.”

I’d love to see a film where Rotcreep takes center stage, as he has the potential to be nightmare-inducing with the right treatment.

The final 30 minutes of Those Who Walk Away delivers some creepy moments and striking visuals. But overuse of flickering lights, scenes obscured in murky darkness, disorienting camerawork, and an eerie but oppressive score all conspire to dull the potential impact.

It needs to be said that I’m not someone who typically gets hung up on plot holes in a horror film, especially one with supernatural elements. These kinds of films often require some suspension of disbelief, and I’m game to get lost in the logic — however flawed — if the film is entertaining. But even I have my limits. And Those Who Walk Away really tested those limits by making such little sense that it was impossible to fully invest in the events as they unfolded.

The backstory is woefully underdeveloped.

Still, there are hints at what this film could have been had the script received an additional pass or two to further flesh out the substance buried behind all its surface style.

At its core lies a pretty powerful metaphor about trauma, guilt, the choices we make to survive, and the way our emotional scars linger and rot us to the core — demanding to be fed and haunting us long after we think we’ve escaped.

There’s so much gold to be mined from the ideas at the heart of this film, coupled with the ghastly specter of Rotcreep. But what we end up with at best is a shiny nickel and longing for what might have been.

RENT IT, STREAM IT, OR SKIP IT?
STREAM IT. This film fails to fully deliver, but Rippberger remains a director worth keeping your eye on. Despite this misstep, his potential is clearly visible. And there’s a good chance his next venture will prove just what he’s capable of. Additionally, Booboo Stewart has a great screen presence and makes the most of the material he’s given, effectively selling vulnerability, rage, desperation, and sheer terror. And he’s got a promising career in the genre should he choose to continue down this path. So, it’s probably worth catching these two in action when you can stream this for free on a platform like Tubi. In the meantime, spend a few minutes reading the very short story this film was partly inspired by, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” about one community’s abundant happiness thanks to the “perpetual misery of a single child.” It’s devastating, thought-provoking, and packs quite a punch despite being only a few pages.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 2