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Bring a Baby: Leave No Trace

Debra Granik

Director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) has already proven that she has a talent for exploring marginal characters living on the edge of society with her previous work. But Leave No Trace takes that one step further, with this intimate story of a father and daughter who have lived off the grid in isolation for years.

“quality American independent filmmaking.” 

As the story opens, Will (the always watchable Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are living deep inside a forest in Portland, Oregon. Happy to live off the land and sleep in a tent far from civilisation, they have built their own unique lifestyle. But their rugged idyll is upset by the arrival of local authorities, who arrest them for trespassing and force them to meet with social service agencies and integrate into society. At first, the restless Will tries to make the best of this imposed situation, but struggles with domesticity and his own demons. Tom, who is just beginning to experience life in the wider world, resists his plan to drop out again and their unbroken father/daughter bond is tested.

This portrait of a father who has turned his back on society and the impact this decision has had on his teenage daughter is beautifully observed. Without passing judgement, we are shown the positives and negatives of their close relationship, unusual life choices and the conflicts both of those bring to these two characters’ lives. Foster’s Will is both vulnerable and volatile, while McKenzie’s Tom is loving and feisty. Told at an unhurried pace, with care and attention, Leave No Trace is quality American independent filmmaking at its best.