A father and son go hunting in the snowy woods, but there’s more to their trip than bringing home a buck. In Walking Out, silently grumpy father Cal (Matt Bomer) hopes he can instill some strength and skills in his apathetic teenage son, David (Josh Wiggins), who would rather play video games. Cal’s wish will come true, but only through the cold and unforgiving hand of nature. And a bear that bites them really hard.
The pair have a tough relationship, being from different backgrounds. Cal has spent enough time in the woods with his own father (Bill Pullman), Clyde, to know the rights and wrongs of hunting, technically and morally; in flashbacks, Clyde is at one point furious with him for wasting a bullet on a moose that would’ve died naturally. It’s a lot harder for Cal to teach such values to his estranged son when he lives so far away and is a product of a different environment. David isn’t an excellent shot, and he doesn’t fully grasp all of Cal’s talk about the land or his philosophy of hunting. Perhaps some camping will inspire him to be more of a man of the woods.
However, something goes awry on the trip, and father and son find themselves with severe injuries and lost in the wilderness, struggling to both find their way back and avoid being eaten by bears. They trudge through the snow, their bodies battered, bruised, and bleeding. David’s primal instincts kick in as Cal continues to grow nostalgic, adding an extra layer of importance to proceed further. The grit grows higher as their blood grows thinner from the cold. The paths become confusing, and the mind begins to wander as much as the feet in the wintery setting of same trees and rivers. Whether they live or die, there’ll be one big exhale at the end of it all.
There’s a mixed bag of a survival drama here. The atmosphere is superb for slowly easing into the settings—the cold breaths, the warmth of the campfire, the majesty of nature, and the loud echoes of the hunting rifles firing across the woods. But when it comes time to establish Cal’s past, the movie holds our hand too much through these scenes with the character’s narration of his history, which adds nothing to scenes with Bill Pullman. These could be compelling moments, but Cal’s words are too blunt in explaining the meaning of it all. Those scenes pale in comparison to the rawer drama of Cal and David braving the emptiness of being alone in the woods with limited supplies and brutal wounds.
The film takes a relatively straightforward route of weaving of tears and fear amid bouts with bears, most of it hitting more than missing. It stumbles to hit to that sweet spot of weathering the winter, particularly in the inciting incident, which requires David to be dumb enough to approach a baby bear, thinking nothing of the cub chewing off his arm and clawing off his face. (At least the film stresses the stupidity in approaching bears and the savage aftermath of doing so.) Though Cal’s words are a bit too direct, they still breed a sense of knowing the land and understanding the deeper aspects of shooting animals. Most hunters are probably not so thoughtful with their kills, but Matt Bomer’s performance sells this philosophy so well.
Walking Out isn’t as profound as it probably could have been for a survival drama, but it mostly gets the job done of being an engaging outing. There’s enough bluntness and reflection to make this tale of hunting and braving the woods a real experience of family drama and an intense struggle to live another day.