Leave No Trace (2018)


Critic Consensus: Leave No Trace takes an effectively low-key approach to a potentially sensationalistic story -- and further benefits from brilliant work by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.


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Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland. The film is directed by Debra Granik from a script adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini.

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Critic Reviews for Leave No Trace

All Critics (198) | Top Critics (39)

Occasionally uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking, it is nothing less than sublime.

Jul 23, 2018 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Debra Granik directs with a touch that's as gentle on the audience as bees are to Tom. There is not a move, cut, sound, or deliberate stretch of silence that in some way doesn't advance and inform the plot.

Jul 13, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

It covers difficult ground, but to say it leaves no trace would be a lie. It definitely makes its mark.

Jul 13, 2018 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

Leave No Trace might be described in social terms as a film about homelessness, but it never loses sight of the fact that what makes a home is the privacy people need to connect with each other.

Jul 11, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Leave No Trace is one of the best films of 2018 and promises to make a star of McKenzie.

Jul 8, 2018 | Full Review…

[Thomasin McKenzie] is a massive find. There is such wisdom in her presence...You can feel her seeing everything and taking it all in. There's such a naturalism to the way she responds in every single situation.

Jul 6, 2018 | Rating: 9/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Leave No Trace

WAY INTO THE WOODS - My Review of LEAVE NO TRACE (4 Stars) LEAVE NO TRACE, Debra Granik's first narrative feature since her 2010 breakout WINTER'S BONE and once again co-written with Anne Rosellini, quietly came and went earlier this year but has recently re-entered the conversation with awards season nominations. How it passed me by upon initial release I can't say, but I'm glad I finally caught up with one of the year's best films. Ben Foster plays Will, who when we first meet him, lives in the woods of a state park outside Portland with his young daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). Completely off the grid, they live in a tent filled with rudimentary supplies, hunting and cooking mushrooms or opening a can of soup, and sometimes venture into the city to sell Will's medications to drug dealers allowing them to purchase more supplies. With spare dialogue and astute visuals, the film slowly reveals why they've chosen this way of living. Of course, the movie wouldn't work unless obstacles and disruptions punctured their isolated existence, and when they come, it's unnervingly yet quietly suspenseful. While Will needs to live this way, Tom isn't so sure. She clearly loves and cares for her father, but she also feels drawn to the comforts of a permanent home and interactions with other people. What makes this story so memorable is the undying respect she has for Will. Lesser filmmakers and actors would have portrayed Tom as an eye-rolling, sullen teen who "But Dad's" her way through the story. McKenzie, a real find, has such poise and grace, communicating complex and contradictory feelings with a glance or humane patience with her emotionally unstable father. Foster, no stranger to these types of roles, finds the empathetic core of his character, fully convincing us that his desire to have nothing to do with other people isn't such a bad choice. It's one of his finest performances, and I thought he had topped himself with HELL OR HIGH WATER. Looking at the current situation in our country, a part of me longed to escape the way he does, but I'm not sure I could deal with the rain and the bugs. I guess being an armchair SURVIVOR viewer will have to satisfy that craving. Like WINTER'S BONE, Granik has a clear feel for rustic environments and the ability to find excitement in the quietest of moments. Spare filmmaking of this quality seems harder to pull off than a dozen superhero movies. She doesn't need people shouting at each other or big action set pieces to serve as conflict. She finds it within two very special characters who, though at cross purposes, use that rarest of attributes, kindness, to get their points across. It's sustained all the way through to its heartbreaking, devastating, but just right ending.

Glenn Gaylord
Glenn Gaylord

Super Reviewer

Granik pulls off a low key take on a story that could easily have been grating. Probably because the point isn't that rejecting society is good, but rather that some people, right or wrong, will always do this.

Alec Barniskis
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

If there's one essential quality of America that no one talks enough about, it's that we love to invoke our troops when it's politically convenient, but when it comes to them surviving combat long enough to return home they are swiftly referred to their own Marine-issued boot straps. Conveniently swept under the rug are they the skeletons of our world police headquarter's closet. PTSD, psychosis, drug addiction, and suicide serve as a mental MRE for the overwhelming majority of these veterans, and it probably doesn't help to have to bear the guilt of the fact there hasn't been a moral justification for 99% of US military interventions since WWII. We can all agree that East Asia, South America, and the Middle East have been great plunder for the wealthy elite and their multinational corporations for the good part of the last century, but if you asked the families that have sacrificed, mentally and mortally, their children to fight those ventures I doubt they'd say lower gas prices make up for the void in their hearts. Sometimes while sitting at your pointless wage-earning life-drain, you may fantasize about just dropping everything and running into the forest. Most of us never do anything with this primal drive to leave the artifice of modern living, or we might go camping on the weekend to get a little taste of it. But there's nothing fulfilling about a weeny roast in an RV park because it isn't really a mortal priority. Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have managed to keep society at arms length enough to find some solace. More out of necessity for the father, an ex-Marine who has a severe case of rambling, they make do with the scarcity of the forest, and the satisfaction of being able to "think [their] own thoughts". The idea that this is never more overtly explained makes Leave No Trace seem all the more supernatural. Helicopters haunt Will's dreams, and when forced by the state to acclimate to the trappings of even rural society one can immediately sense his fight-or-flight senses being triggered by the simple ubiquity of technology. American society has always taken the scraps from the table of military technological innovation. From the cathode ray to the microwave to the internet we've rather suddenly bombarded our simian/reptile minds with unnatural light, and all of this innovation has been in an attempt to effectively inflict the most damage and terror possible on ourselves. We commit this crime against humanity well, and I think only someone who knows the theater of modern warfare can fully grasp the horror of its potentiality. But there are also quiet, beautiful places left on this Earth where to take solace. One just has to survive long enough to find them. Much of what is spoken between Will and Tom is pragmatic and stoic, but this simplicity underlies a much deeper emotional context that resonates far beyond their situation. Leave No Trace is a reminder that you don't have to be alone in the torment of this world, but you do have to find a place where you fit.

K Nife Churchkey
K Nife Churchkey

Super Reviewer


From director Debra Granik who made 2010's 'Winter's Bone', returns with another superb effort that's every bit as stunning and endearing as critics from all across the world are saying it is. Focusing on a very human story of a father and his beloved daughter living away from the confines and traditions of society, possibly due to his past trauma and uncomfortable mentality of being a former war veteran. A film like this mesmerizes us within the beautiful confines of the Oregon rain forests, whilst encompassing us within the drama conflicting with both Ben Foster and newcomer; Thomasin McKenzie's outstanding performances, that truly make this film to watch out for. Granik is also hugely capable of making a unique American setting stand out with such vigor and grace within it's naturalistic features and feel, especially for it's minor performers too, that work exceptionally well along with the leads. Definitely one of 2018's finest.

Luke Eberhardt
Luke Eberhardt

Super Reviewer

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