Leave No Trace

Year: 2018
Directed by: Debra Granik
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeffery Rifflard

Written by Jessica Peña

In Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, there’s a prominent meditation of home and peace. There’s also trickles of separation, both the physical displacements and the emotional grips of life we come to face. Living on the margins just outside of Portland, Oregon prove to be a place of comfort for Will and his 13-year-old daughter, Tom. They’ve been living this way for so many years that it’s essentially become everything Tom has known to be real. A serene wilderness welcomes us in the opening scene as we’re introduced into their routine life living in Forest Park, where they call home. Will and Tom are in their comfort zone, gathering and suiting their needs from the land where they can, relishing in their worriless, spacious living. They prepare food and eat together, stay close at night for warmth, and have even practised how they’d escape and hide if they were to ever be discovered. Their way of life is compromised as people learn of their hiding and try to integrate them into society and normality, but it instead begins to test the very existence they hold dear. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster are quietly phenomenal here as they engage in a dynamic that’s both heart wrenching and endearing.

To leave no trace here is to leave nothing that can be traced back to you; to simply go live undetected, off the grid. Based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace carries a deep-rooted passion in how one father and daughter come to terms with a life that’s pulled the rug from under them and just how the journey back to the old reveals a new curiosity for adapting. Granik, along with long-time collaborating screenwriter/producer Anne Rosellini, tell us a story about family that is patient, and harmonious in junction with the world that greets them. Rosellini has worked closely with Granik through her past projects (Stray Dog, Winter’s Bone, Down to the Bone), helping now to form a tender, compelling adaptation in “Leave No Trace” that leaps into our hearts.

After being escorted out of the park for living on public property, Will and Tom are put through the system, cementing the influence of social realism and how the economy of living is affecting their existence. Will sometimes suffers from night terrors brought on by his past trauma so he’s heavily impacted by this sudden reintegration. Tom cries out for her dad when they get seperated for examination, never once having been apart from him. She’s devoted herself to the tranquil living they built as a two-person family, only depending on the other. Their relationship is at the heart of the film and it makes McKenzie and Foster stellar, convincing characters. It’s based on all the tribulations they face as they try to adjust, abandon, and reexamine their livelihood and where they can go from there. There’s a scene where Tom introduces her dad to the harmony and warmth of a beehive, something she herself was awe-inspired by. “See, you don’t need to be scared,” she tells him, now holding the bees on her gloveless fingers. Beautifully, this story begins to tell of how Will admires his daughter’s love for life and discovery, even when it’s indirectly trying to comfort him to the possibilities.

Foster gives an excellent, realized performance of a man who’s felt so much battle and defeat in his life that it’s made him feel obsolete to the society he’s casted himself from. His PTSD flares up from time to time as he relentlessly fights to keep his daughter and this sense of security nearby. McKenzie is truly the star that shines brighter as the film treks its way to the end. Tom is loving and pays close attention to care for her father, but she also begins to listen to the curiosity that grows within her. The people she’s met through the new housing journey have been the most welcome— giving them a mobile home to live in, Will a job, and Tom an agricultural group with others her age for learning new skills— and while it deeply overwhelms Will, it doesn’t make Tom want to retreat to the parklands.

It’s not a spoiler to say that there is no intentional conflict in Leave No Trace. The struggles of reality and feeling enclosed to live a way not normally accustomed to is the unmistakable inner conflict, and it leaves a lot to think on once credits roll. It’s clear that a bond that’s been untouched for so long can desperately unravel when shaken, but Will and Tom are quite resilient. It’s become one of my favorite stories this year and it has a sincerity that reaches new lengths. Debra Granik is a magnificent storyteller, moreso when it comes to observing the lives of those living off the grid or having had to persevere against all odds. Leave No Trace is an astonishing, quiet portrait of that.

Jessica’s Rating: 



Reel Women: June UK Releases

Written by Elena Morgan

Welcome back to Reel Women, a monthly feature where we highlight the films that are being released in the UK this month that are written and/or directed by women. As ever this is a mixture of wide and smaller releases, so depending where in the country you are, some might be easier to see than others, and there’s a couple of Netflix Original films here too. All the release date information comes from Launching Films and all dates are correct at the time this post was written – we all know film releases can change at the last minute, especially for smaller films.

This month there’s romantic comedies, documentaries, dramas, and one I’m personally very excited for – the Ocean’s spin-off.


1 June

Book Club
Directed by Bill Holderman
Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms

When four long-time friends (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen) decide to read 50 Shades of Grey for the book club, they all get a whole new lease for life.

Erin Simms is an actress and producer who worked as a part of the crew for such films as ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and ‘Pete’s Dragon’. ‘Book Club’ is her first produced screenplay.

Ismael’s Ghosts

Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Written by Arnaud Desplechin, Julie Peyr and Léa Mysius

Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) is a filmmaker whose life is turned on its head when his wife (Marion Cotillard), who he hasn’t seen for over twenty years comes back into his life, disrupting his relationship.

This is Julie Peyr’s second collaboration with Arnaud Desplechin and her tenth screenwriting credit. Léa Mysius is a writer and director of a number of short films. Her debut feature film, ‘Ava’, screened at the London Film Festival last year.

Lost in Vagueness
Directed by Sofia Olins

A music documentary about Roy Gurvitz who created Lost Vagueness at Glastonbury and reinvigorated the festival.

‘Lost in Vagueness’ is Sofia Olins’ first feature-length documentary. She’s previously worked as a second unit director or assistant director on a variety of British television series including ‘Primeval’, ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Peep Show’.


8 June

The Boy Downstairs
Written and Directed by Sophie Brooks

Diana (Zosia Mamet) is forced to reflect on her past relationship with Ben (Matthew Shear) when she unintentionally moves into the apartment above his.

‘The Boy Downstairs’ is Sophie Brooks first feature film.

15 June

Set It Up
Directed by Claire Scanlon
Written by Katie Silberman

Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are two stressed out assistants who each have a high maintenance boss, Kristen (Lucy Liu) and Rick (Taye Diggs). When they decide to play matchmaker, maybe they can spread some romance and get their freedom.

Think of any big American comedy show of the past ten years and Claire Scanlon has probably directed at least one episode of it. Her directing credits include ‘The Office’, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Fresh Off the Boat’. ‘Set It Up’ is her first feature film. Katie Silberman has previously produced comedy films ‘Hot Pursuit’ and ‘How to Be Single’. ‘Set It Up’ is her first feature-length screenplay to make it to the screen.


22 June

Ocean’s 8
Directed by Gary Ross
Written by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) gathers a crew to attempt to rob the Met Gala.

Olivia Milch is a writer-director whose debut film, ‘Dude’, is a Netflix Original Film. As well as co-writing Ocean’s 8 she is also a co-producer on the film.

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat
Directed by Sara Driver

A documentary exploring the pre-fame years of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how New York City its people and the shifting arts culture of the 1970s and ‘80s shaped his work.

‘Boom for Real’ is Sara Driver’s first documentary feature film and her first film in 15 years.

Freak Show
Directed by Trudie Styler
Written by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio

Despite attending an ultra-conservative high school, teenager Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) decides to run for Homecoming Queen.

Trudie Styler is an actress and producer and ‘Freak Show’ is her directorial feature debut. Beth Rigazio has previously written TV movies including the Disney Channel original movie, ‘Go Figure’.

24 June

To Each, Her Own (aka Les Gouts et Les Couleurs)
Directed by Myriam Aziza
Written by Myriam Aziza, Denyse Rodriguez-Tomé

Simone’s (Sarah Stern) been in a relationship with Claire (Julia Piaton) for years but has never come out to her family. Her brothers keep trying to set her up with men, her father’s a traditionalist and her mother is just a little bit eccentric – soon everything comes to ahead and Simone is forced to make some hard choices.

‘To Each, Her Own’ is a Netflix Original and is Myriam Aziza’s sixth film. She wrote, directed, edited and was cinematographer on her documentary film ‘L’an prochain à Jérusalem’. Denyse Rodriguez-Tomé previous screenwriting credits include ‘I Hate Love‘ which won the Award of the Youth in the French Film category at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

27 June

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
Written and Directed by Mari Okada

Maquia (Manaka Iwami) is an immortal girl and when she ventures out into the world she meets Erial (Miyu Irino) a mortal boy, their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond that lasts throughout the years.

‘Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms’ is Mari Okada’s directorial debut but she’s written episodes for dozens of different anime. In 2011 Okada won the Animation Kobe Award, an award and event that aims to promote anime and other visual media.


29 June

Leave No Trace
Directed by Debra Granik
Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini

A father (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) have an idyllic life living in a vast urban park in Oregon, until they are forced to re-join society.

Debra Granik is the director of ‘Winter’s Bone’, a film she co-wrote with Anne Rosellini and which earned them both an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. ‘Leave No Trace’ is their first feature film since ‘Winter’s Bone’ was released in 2010.

Directed by Mandie Fletcher
Written by Vanessa Davies, Mandie Fletcher and Paul de Vos

Sarah’s (Beattie Edmondson) life is a bit of a mess and she really could do without the pug named Patrick her grandmother bequeathed her. As Sarah struggles to look after Patrick, find romance with his vet (Ed Skrein) and cope with a new job, Sarah realises that Patrick might just be helping her turn her life around.

Mandie Fletcher has directed episodes of popular British comedies like ‘Black Adder the Third’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’, and ‘Miranda’ and her previous film was ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’. ‘Patrick’ is both Mandie Fletcher’s and Vanessa Davies’s first produced screenplay.

The Bookshop
Written and Directed by Isabel Coixet

Set in a small English town in 1959, Florence (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookshop but is met with polite yet ruthless opposition.

Isabel Coixet is a Spanish filmmaker with over 30 directing credits and 20 writing credits to her name.



That’s thirteen films made by women being released in the UK in June. There’s something for everyone with animation, dramas, documentaries and a fair few romantic comedies. Personally, I’m looking forward to ‘Ocean’s 8′ and ‘Set It Up’, two films that have been on my radar for a while, but one I hadn’t heard of before researching this feature but definitely want to see is ‘Freak Show’ – the trailer makes it look like so much fun!