The new movie Leave No Trace is the latest in a series of recent films about characters who have intentionally chosen to live off the grid, leaving modern society behind. Ben Foster plays Will, a father who’s taken his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and decided to live in a forest far away from everyone else and surviving all on their own.
Everything changes when the authorities catch up with them and force the two to come back to “civilization.” Social services puts them in a house and tries to get Will a job and Tom an education. Neither takes well to their new surroundings and seek to escape the life they’re being forced into and return to the life they knew. The movie comes from director Debra Granik, the first feature from her since she broke out with 2010’s Winter’s Bone.
The poster shows Tom and Will hiking through the woods, dwarfed by the massive trees around them. Most of the real estate is devoted to a collection of quotes from critics praising the movie, something that, when combined with the mention of this coming from the director of Winter’s Bone, indicates the studio knows this is going to appeal mostly to the arthouse crowd and so is going after them directly.
Will and Tom are living on their own in the middle of a park and, when the trailer opens, are on the run before Will is arrested. The authorities keep talking about wanting to get Will help – we see he may have trauma from his time in the military – and make sure Tom is taken care of, which she insists her dad has been doing. They’re set up in an actual home and given jobs, but it’s not long before Will can’t take the conformity and structure and so they set out once again. Tom, though, seems to be alright with a more conventionally normal life and so strikes out on her own.
That looks really great, especially the performances by both McKenzie and Foster. She in particular seems to give a powerful edge to Tom’s mix of independence, self-sufficiency and devotion to her father. It’s obvious she’s the heart and soul of the story as it’s her journey and struggle the audience will be asked to primarily invest itself in.
Online and Social
Bleecker Street’s official website for the movie features all the usual information, including a story synopsis, trailers and clips, a photo gallery and so on. Links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles are also featured on the front page of the site.
On the editorial front, there’s a section of original blog posts from the studio featuring interviews and profiles of Granik, Foster and others involved in the movie as well as some with Peter Brock, the author of the source novel, and a wilderness survival expert. Farther down the page is a collection of the earned media with the cast and crew.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The story was outlined in its most basic form, showing the relationship between Will and Tom and their struggle to live the lives they want to free from interference, in TV commercials that ran long and short. Both name-drop Winter’s Bone, apparently believing enough of the target audience is familiar with that movie for it to provide encouragement to see this one.
Media and Publicity
Critics often called this movie out as one they couldn’t wait to see at the Sundance Film Festival, in no small part because of it being the long-awaited follow-up by director Debra Granik to Winter’s Bone. Around that time Granik spoke about the gap between films as well as how she approached this story and working with the actors to tell a natural, observational story more than anything else. The movie was eventually picked up by Bleecker Street toward the end of the festival.
Later interviews allowed Granik to talk more about the story she was telling with this movie and how she’s determined to carve her own path as a filmmaker and not get caught up in the big spectacle of the movie industry.
In the last week or so there was a big push around McKenzie, with spotlights that said she would follow in Jennifer Lawrence’s footsteps as the next young woman to breakout in a movie directed by Granik. Foster got some attention as well as people reminded us he’s one of those “reliably great in everything” type of actors.
I’m happy to see that Bleecker Street gave this movie some paid support along with the engaging and interesting organic campaign that was mounted. It certainly highlights some of the strongest value propositions available, including the performances by Foster and McKenzie. The latter in particular, along with Granik, were really turned into the focus of the publicity, something that coupled with strong festival buzz should help get the attention of those looking for a smaller-scale theatrical outing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.