New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is mesmerising as 13-year-old Tom living off the grid with her war vet father (Ben Foster) in this haunting new film from the director of Winter’s Bone.
Director Debra Granik introduced Jennifer Lawrence to the world in Winter’s Bone. In Leave No Trace she directs young New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in a lead performance that is just as remarkable. She plays Tom, a teenager who has been living off the grid with her father, Will (Ben Foster), from an early age. Camped in a forest outside Portland, they are peaceable, lo-tech survivalists, perfectly attuned to each other and the natural world. Will’s alienation from society is profound – he and Tom run drills in preparation for any human intrusion – but it doesn’t prevent him from providing his daughter an education.
Discovery is probably inevitable. When social services try to intervene and Tom’s sheltered life is threatened her responses are complex, not least as she comes to see the shelter she herself affords her troubled father. Though there’s the trajectory of a chase movie in the pair’s flight from authority the heart of the drama lies in the perceptible shifts in Tom’s view of the world – and in the compassion extended to the two of them by a whole world of backwoods dwellers.