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Walden (2023) Review

Walden Dean (Emile Hirsch, Devil’s Workshop, The Price We Pay) is a court stenographer in a small Southern town. When we first meet him, he’s competing in a speed typing contest. From there he rushes off to court where Judge Boyle (David Keith, I’ll Be Watching, Awaken) is presiding over the trail of Norman Bolt (Ben Bladon, Amazon Hot Box, The Exorcist: Believer) accused of killing his daughter by putting her in an oven when he was cracked out of his mind. He’s found guilty and sentenced to death but is released due to the prosecutor withholding evidence.

That’s not the only potential death sentence being handed down. After he passes out in court, Walden is taken to the hospital and found to have a brain tumour. The film’s publicity refers to it as a terminal illness, the doctor in the film says it’s probably benign but should be operated on regardless. Either way, that plus being in the right place to stop a robbery via a bottle to the would be thief’s head create a change in Walden’s personality.

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Running parallel to this is a subplot about Detectives Kane (Shane West, Maneater, Escape the Field) and Hunt (Tania Raymonde, Deep Blue Sea 3, The Last Ship). They investigate the case of a young boy who was abducted from his house and find that it’s only the latest in a string of disappearances stretching back over the past decade.

Writer/director Mick Davis (Wake of Death, Haunting Charles Manson) seems to have intended to make a Southern Gothic variation of Dexter. Both are nonthreatening appearing employees of the justice system. They also both lost their mothers to crime at a young age, Dexter to a murderer, Walden to a drunk driver. Both eventually become sadistic killers, targeting those they feel have escaped conventional justice. The film’s artwork is even a variation on that used for Dexter’s sixth season, with bloody scales of justice replacing the original’s bloody angel wings.

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Unfortunately, he’s stuffed so many plot threads, the film struggles to find a focus. There’s Walden’s vigilante work and the missing kids, which you know will eventually intersect. There’s also the stenographer’s competion, a potential romance with another of the contestants, Emily (Kelli Garner, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, V/H/S/85), flashbacks to his childhood and more. Ironically, his tumour pretty much vanishes from the plot as soon as it’s mentioned.

There’s also not a lot of actual suspense to be found in this film. We know he’s going to get those he’s going after, and the person responsible for the child abductions is extremely easy to figure out. The story functions more like a character study, or an origin story, than a full-blown thriller. And, given how it ends, it probably was meant to be the start of a franchise.

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Whether fans of the genre will find enough action to satisfy them or if they’ll react favourably to the titular character is another matter. I found his bizarre, almost childish personality annoying, and never found him particularly credible when squaring off against the film’s bad guys. And that’s even with one of them being an addict so scrawny he looks more like Gollum than a human being, and another a morbidly obese woman.

Ultimately, Walden tries to be several different kinds of films and pretty much fails across the board. It’s nice to see someone try and do something a little different with the genre, but it needed to do it a lot better. What might have been more interesting would be having him go after prosecutors who do things, like withhold evidence, that allow criminals to go free.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release Walden in select theatres on November 10th and to Digital and VOD Platforms on November 12th. You can check their Facebook page or the film’s website for more information. If you’re looking for something similar, but hopefully better, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.

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