Director Robert Rippberger (Strive, Public Enemy Number One) and co-writer Spencer Moleda’s script for Those Who Walk Away was influenced by the Ursula Le Guin short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and it’s referenced in the film’s first few minutes. Which is a good thing because, not having read the story, I wouldn’t have made the connection otherwise.
Max (Booboo Stewart, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Avery (Scarlett Sperduto, Strive, Wanted) met on a dating app. For their first date, they plan on going to a screening of The Evil Dead at the theatre she manages. Things start to go sideways when they arrive to find a bomb threat has been called in and one of the employees Jake (Devin Keaton, My Super Psycho Sweet 16: Part 2) starts talking shit about her.
Instead, they decide to get a bottle of Inferno and do a bit of urban exploring in a local haunted house that’s reputed to be the home of Rotcreep (Nils Allen Stewart, Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels, The Haunting of Sharon Tate), an entity who can rot your body and soul with a mere touch. As she says “Why settle for a horror movie when you can see the real thing?”
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 filmRobert Rippberger
The first half of Those Who Walk Away is weird and not in a supernatural way. The way Avery’s personality changes as soon as they leave the theatre and the way she starts acting have Max wanting to call it a night and with good reason. She talks him out of it and then proceeds to act even weirder but he goes along with it and lets her drive them to the middle of nowhere. It’s all so obvious that there’s no surprise at all when Avery reveals a secret about herself, her brother Phillip (Grant Morningstar, Tinseltown, #Float), and the real reason they’re there.
From here Those Who Walk Away becomes even stranger, but with one exception, it’s never really scary. It feels more like the film’s supernatural elements are just there for Rippberger and Moleda to wrap a story about the choices we make, and the guilt felt over those choices, around. This isn’t in and of itself bad, the best horror revolves around real issues after all. But the best horror also has a well-developed villain and a coherent plot.
So little is explained that by the end of Those Who Walk Away, I was more confused than anything else. The bare bones of a backstory are there, but too many important details are left out for it to be effective. Rotcreep had some serious potential with his ability but he’s barely in the film, and too much about how he became what he is was left unexplained. What’s left is a film, that while at times interesting, fails as a horror movie. Even some nice camerawork by Diego Cordero (Foursome) and a creepy haunted house set can’t make it work. It might be worth a watch when it turns up on Tubi, but that’s it.