By: Brendan Graham
Online dating can be a nightmare for a variety of reasons: catfishing, mismatching ideas, and people who magically forgot their wallet on a giant restaurant tab, to name a few. There’s a level of uncertainty when you’re meeting someone for the first time, that can be both exhilarating and frightening. Are they really who they say they are? Are they going to be into me? Should we go to dinner and a movie, or should we go to a haunted house and drink? THOSE WHO WALK AWAY goes with the latter of those options, and we get to see just why this isn’t a good idea for a date, or just in general.
Lonely heartthrob Max (Booboo Stewart) hasn’t had a date in a long while. After having to take care of his ailing mother and sacrificing a lot of his time and energy, he needs to connect with someone (or potentially hook up) to refresh and reset. Using a dating app, he matches up with Avery (Scarlett Sperduto), a quirky student of literature who works at the local movie theater. She has no issues asking very personal questions, has a strange relationship with her brother, and drops her knowledge of Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (what the film is loosely inspired by) to impress her new date.
After their plans for a movie are interrupted by a bomb threat, Avery comes up with the idea that they should buy some booze, and take it to a haunted house that she knows of. Max is hesitant, but he is really connecting with this girl, so he reluctantly agrees to join her. Upon arriving, she tells him the story of an entity called Rotcreep (Nils Allen Stewart), which is fabled to have the ability to rot your body from the outside with one touch, and that needs to be fed to be satiated. What started as a night of potential romance, turns into a nightmare as Max begins to realize just how real Rotcreep is.
THOSE WHO WALK AWAY feels like a chaotic mess. For starters, the movie drags its feet for the first 35 minutes or so, trying to create character development and an audience connection with our two leads that honestly fails. They are both fairly dull and unlikeable characters, for different reasons. Max is painfully awkward, unconfident, and generally uninteresting, none of which makes him a bad person, mind you, it just doesn’t make him appealing as a character to spend 90 minutes with. Avery immediately comes off as untrustworthy, nosey, and overly eager, which is how the movie wants to showcase her. However, it reveals too much about her too early, and her dialogue in particular feels incredibly forced.
The camera work aims to mimic the feel of films like La Casa Muda or its English remake The Silent House, a play off the seemingly one-take shot, but it is not very effective here. Scenes speed up, they slow down at odd times, and there are lots of flashing for dramatic effect (photosensitive viewers be warned).
The design for Rotface is intriguing and definitely unnerving to look at. He reminds me of a combination of Slenderman and Baghuul, and while the way he moves around the house is a bit clunky, he still manages to be the best part of this movie. However, he’s not even mentioned until halfway through the movie, so we don’t spend nearly enough time with Rotface to really feel threatened.
There are some genuinely unsettling set pieces and sequences towards the end of the movie, but by that point, as an audience, we’re not as interested as we should be. It's like Director Robert Rippberger wanted to throw a bunch of horror elements against the wall to see what would stick, and the pieces that did, don't fit well together. I never thought I would even suggest this, but this film would have worked better as a found-footage type ordeal, at least that would draw some of the attention away from the often nonsensical plot.
I will give credit where credit is due, Stewart does deliver a good performance in the third act. The haunted house itself is pretty creepy, giving off vibes of The Blair Witch Project and a little bit of Twin Peaks. Besides the bizarre cinematography choices at times, the lighting is well done, and the overall mood of the film does improve once we get to that haunted house. The twist may have been really easy to spot well ahead of time, but it does make the movie a bit more fun. I would love to see more of Rotface, and hopefully have a chance to hear more of the folklore the film seemed to be lacking.
THOSE WHO WALK AWAY at times felt like a genuine chore to get through, but the last act of the movie does redeem the experience a bit more than I was expecting. However, the characters are not very interesting, the plot struggles to inspire any feeling until the end, and there’s just too much going on visually. It gets very distracting at times. I, unfortunately, didn’t find it to be enjoyable, but you might "walk away" having a better time than I did. Pun definitely intended.
THOSE WHO WALK AWAY is now playing in limited theaters and is also available on VOD.