Matt Bomer in Walking Out (IFC Films)

In Walking Out, from the directing team of brothers Alex and Andrew J. Smith, a father and son face unthinkable odds after a series of accidents occur on a big game hunting trip in the wilderness. Teenager David (Josh Wiggins) has traveled to Montana to spend time with his father, Cal (Matt Bomer). He lives full time with his mother in Texas, only seeing Cal for a yearly hunting trip. David has developed a bit of teenage attitude and doesn’t seem particularly thrilled with spending time out of signal range from the outside world. Cal, however, has big plans for this trip. He’s been tracking a moose recently and, despite the danger, is determined that he and David make this kill together.

Cal regales David with stories of his own hunting adventures with his father, David’s grandfather (Bill Pullman). He’s clearly trying to instill some of the same lessons and create the same memories with David. When they find the moose already shot, Cal is angry, but he still wants to teach David the ropes of tracking. Despite seeing a few signs of grizzlies in the area, they continue the trip. On their way home, however, they find signs of aggressive bear violence.

Bomer plays Cal with such intensity in the first minutes I half expected him to turn out to be a villain. There’s a sense of gravity in general that weighs the movie down, especially in the beginning. It’s clear where this story is headed from the melancholy discussions Cal has with David about the early death of his mother and father. While David is willing to make his dad happy by hunting, there isn’t a whole lot of lightness; the excursion feels more like a requirement than a father and son bonding experience.

The incidents in the wilderness signal a change in their relationship, but it’s tough to feel that shift when their initial relationship isn’t bad, just nonexistent. Neither Cal nor David is established with much depth in the first half, and it’s difficult to understand their motivations. It’s a wonder David or Cal want to share this kind of experience in the first place. David and Cal’s mothers are only hinted at. Perhaps a deeper engagement with their influence on these two characters might have created more complexity.

Bomer and Wiggins do a fine job, but it’s Pullman who, in vague flashback-memories, steals the movie. He has an effortless charm that brings some warmth to a pretty dark story. Ultimately, the film skips between a variety of genres, never really deciding what it wants to be: David’s coming-of-age, Cal’s father and son bonding adventure, and a survivalist story.

The nature cinematography, by director of photography Todd McMullen, who has mostly worked in television, is gorgeous to behold. The sequences of animals and violence in nature are also shot quite realistically; it’s a wonder how some shots were even completed. But it’s really the icy blues of the winter landscape, the trees and mountains in Big Sky Country, that make this film worth watching.

Written and Directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith, based on the short story by David Quammen
Released by IFC Films
USA. 96 min. PG-13
With Matt Bomer, Lily Gladstone, Alex Neustaedter, Bill Pullman, and Ken White