Review: Leave No Trace is a beautiful tribute to lost souls

Debra Granik’s lovely first feature since Winter’s Bone is another examination of families in extreme environments

LEAVE NO TRACE (Debra Granik). 108 minutes. Opens Friday (July 6). See listing. Rating: NNNN

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace opens in a vast forest, where Will (Ben Foster) and his teen daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), live alone and undisturbed, foraging for food and water and practicing concealment drills. 

In short order, the movie clarifies its story’s time and place – present-day Oregon – as Will and Tom find themselves forcibly restored to society. It’s an adjustment Tom handles far better than her father, for reasons that will be illuminated, if never made explicit, over the course of the film.

In her first dramatic feature since 2010’s Winter’s Bone, director Granik – who made the documentary Stray Dog in the interim – continues to be fascinated by families in extreme environments, but the tone here is considerably less fraught. 

Leave No Trace simply exists alongside its characters, observing the story as it happens to them and letting us take note of the small moments that might explain Will’s permanent state of paranoia, and the ways in which Tom is slowly but unmistakably forming an independent self. 

Foster flattens out his usual mannerisms to play a man so tightly wound that he’s almost vibrating, while the Kiwi actor McKenzie is utterly convincing as an American teenager who’s painfully aware of what she’s missing in the world from which her father has retreated. 

Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini, adapting Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment, make sure we’re aware of that world as well, and all the other lost souls moving through it. Leave No Trace forms a beautiful, heartfelt testament to them. | @normwilner

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