THOSE WHO WALK AWAY poster | ©2022 828 Media Capital/VMI Releasing

THOSE WHO WALK AWAY poster | ©2022 828 Media Capital/VMI Releasing

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Booboo Stewart, Scarlett Sperduto, Bryson Jonsteele, Grant Morningstar, Devin Keaton, Nils Allen Stewart
Writers: Robert Rippberger and Spencer Moleda
Director: Robert Rippberger
Distributor: 828 Media Capital/VMI Releasing
Release Date: February 11, 2022

THOSE WHO WALK AWAY is based, loosely, on Ursula K. LeGuin’s story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” On their first date, Avery (Scarlett Sperduto) tells Max (Booboo Stewart) that she’s doing a college thesis on the work.

Many of those who have read “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” find it unforgettable. Avery’s brief summation of the piece is accurate as far as it goes. The peace and prosperity of an idyllic (fictional) city is somehow maintained by the imprisonment and torture of a single child. The ones who cannot bear to benefit from this walk away.

Avery sees both staying and leaving as equal, since neither action helps the child. Max takes a different message from it, though perhaps not the one that occurs to the viewer.

Max and Avery have met online, but this is their first real-world encounter. They’re both charmingly awkward with each other, and both are nursing familial trauma. As they talk and drink together, they seem to be bonding. In other circumstances, this might turn into a low-budget rom-com.

But since their original plans to attend a movie fell through (somebody called in a bomb threat to the theatre and it’s been evacuated), Avery proposes to Max that they visit a house ostensibly haunted by a ghost known as Rotcreep.

At this point, Max has had what a reasonable person might see as red flags. Then again, the screenplay by Robert Rippberger, who directs, and Spencer Moleda makes it clear that between Max’s guilt and shyness, he’s so distracted by his own thoughts that he’s not necessarily able to see the big picture.

Rotcreep’s appearance and his domain are both suitably horrific, as is the back story that accompanies them. Sonia Foltarz’s production design mixes eerie grunge and a cloying ‘50s aesthetic to strong effect, and Amir Arzanian’s opening credits are striking.

Stewart is very good as Max, who just wants someone he can be himself with, and Sperduto has authenticity as the troubled Avery.

THOSE WHO WALK AWAY actually works best as a haunted house movie. The filmmakers run into trouble with their other ambitions. Suggesting that Max is hallucinating is just confusing, since what’s happening is clearly supernatural. Likewise, the mythology surrounding Rotcreep seems contradictory (we see characters surviving things that we’ve been told should have killed them).

Further, while we can see the attempt to make a connection, the situation in THOSE WHO WALK AWAY doesn’t serve as a metaphor for “Omelas.” The analogy doesn’t work on several levels, though to discuss them would give away too much of the film’s plot. (Then again, the way “Omelas” is brought up in the movie is going to clue some viewers in as to what’s going on well ahead of time.)

For those who like horror with rot, mold, and troubling underpinnings, THOSE WHO WALK AWAY provides lavishly. Those seeking horror that also has solid construction and something potent to say will be less satisfied.

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