If someone only watches the trailer of Walking Out (2017), they may mistake the film for the quieter, less-flashy sibling of The Revenant (2015): a survival tale featuring an angry bear, a father-son dynamic, and unending, overwhelming wilderness. However, the similarities are only on the surface. Based on David Quammen's eponymous short story, Walking Out stakes its sure-footed claim in a timeless genre.
Fourteen-year-old David (Josh Wiggins) travels to Montana for his annual visit with his emotionally stunted father Cal (Matt Bomer), who lives in a cabin off the grid. For the last few weeks, Cal has been tracking a moose and hopes to take David on a hunting trip for the ultimate father-son bonding: his son's first kill. After a catastrophic accident, the two men must work together to survive.
Directed and written by twin brothers Alex and Andrew Smith, the film was filmed in Montana, where they grew up. Alex Smith who edited the film in Woodstock, where he now resides, says that nature was built into every moment of the film. "We always talked about the movie as the father, the son, and the mountain," he says. "Those were the three main characters—almost like a folktale, in that timeless, archetypal way." While the film was shot in Montana, Smith says it was edited and took shape in Woodstock. "It was nice, finding its way and taking heights in the Catskills," he says.
The film unfolds slowly. We gather a picture of Cal and David's stilted, uncomfortable relationship in small, understated moments. Cal seems emotionally cold and hard on David, and David would rather play video games than go hunting with his father. Over the course of their journey, Cal and David begin to gain understanding of each other and their tenuous relationship.
Flashbacks of Cal and his father (Bill Pullman) hunting are woven into the film in dreamy, warm tones—which are stark against the stark white-and-blue-tinged present. The timeline of these memories breaks apart, shifts, and finally comes together to reveal Cal's loss of innocence, or what Smith says "made a good person shut down." "When the boy [David] asks the father about the story, it's a way of keeping the father alive but also a way of informing the boy about what broke the father," he says. "He's trying to gain that knowledge before it's too late."
Knowledge is a theme that the film constantly returns to. While David may be of the information age, he knows very little about the mountain, his father, or life. "Information is not knowledge and you can't gain knowledge through a Google search," Smith says. "The gaining of knowledge: of the father, of nature, and also of himself. That's kind of his story."
There's a moment—before their lives are shattered—when Cal and David sit by a fire. Cal is discussing how his own father brought him on this mountain when he was David's age. As the flames flicker over his rugged face, Cal says, "In 30 years, you'll have a son of your own and you'll want so badly for him to know who you are that you could cry."
In Walking Out, the mountain mirrors the uncharted territory Cal and David are entering: their attempt to know each other. Smith says the film comes back to the idea of trying to know who our parents are—both as individuals and to their children. "To us, it's really about how we understand our parents, and how as parents we try our best to give our best to our children," he says.
Walking Out is available on the iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon streaming platforms.