Not unlike her Winter's Bone (2010), Debra Granik's new film focuses on the experiences of a young woman on the far edges of society. This time, rather than a 17-year-old striving to hold her impoverished family together, it's a 13-year-old trying to survive in the woods with her father. But the film also reveals a keen understanding of an individual's need to be apart, and the psychological and emotional blocks that prevent some from re-engaging with the world. It might not boast the genre elements that helped make Winter's Bone something of a breakout, but Leave No Trace rivets and terrifies in its own way.
When we first meet Tom (the staggeringly good Kiwi actress Thomasin McKenzie), she and her father, Will (the intense and mesmerizing Ben Foster), are gathering and cutting wood for a fire and shooing away packs of dogs outside their tent. Right from these early scenes, there's a delicate power to Granik's visual storytelling; we're enveloped in the perplexing drama of survival on the edge.
Tom and Will have been hiding out in a large public park in Portland, Oregon, making occasional trips into town to buy groceries and visit the hospital. A veteran, Will wants nothing to do with society. Foster grounds Will's terse, survivalist brusqueness in concern for his child; McKenzie beautifully portrays Tom's desire to please her dad, as well as her happiness at simply being with him. After the authorities bring the two back into society and separate them, I was genuinely scared at what might happen. Granik films with subtlety and quiet grace, but Leave No Trace explodes in the mind.