Leave No Trace (film)

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Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDebra Granik
Screenplay by
Based onMy Abandonment
by Peter Rock
Produced by
CinematographyMichael McDonough
Edited byJane Rizzo
Music byDickon Hinchliffe
Distributed by
Release dates
  • January 20, 2018 (2018-01-20) (Sundance)
  • June 29, 2018 (2018-06-29) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$7.7 million[2]

Leave No Trace is a 2018 American drama film directed by Debra Granik and written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the 2009 novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock.[3] The plot follows a military veteran father with post-traumatic stress disorder (Ben Foster) who lives in the forest with his young daughter (Thomasin McKenzie). The novel is based on a true story.[4] It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, and was theatrically released by Bleecker Street in the United States, on June 29, 2018. The film received universal critical acclaim, with praise for the performances of Foster and McKenzie, and it is the most reviewed film to hold an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.


Will, an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD, lives with his 13-year-old daughter, Tom, in the old growth Forest Park near Portland, Oregon. They live in isolation, using forest survival skills and only entering the town occasionally for food and supplies. Will makes their money by selling his VA-issued benzodiazepines to other veterans.

After Tom is spotted in the woods by a jogger, they are arrested by park rangers and detained by social services. They are assessed and Tom is found to be educationally advanced for her age despite not attending school. They are found a house to live in on a Christmas tree farm in rural Oregon in exchange for Will's work on the farm. Will begrudgingly begins work packaging trees, but is bothered by the helicopters used to move them. Tom meets a local boy who is building his own tiny house, and he introduces her to the local 4H youth club. Social services continue to check on them and require constant form filling.

One morning Will suddenly decides to leave. Tom follows reluctantly. They return to their camp in the park, but find it has been destroyed. Will and Tom try to travel in a railroad boxcar but eventually catch a ride with a trucker who takes them to Washington state and drops them off, in a remote forest area. Cold and darkness force them to build a temporary forest survival shelter for the night. The next day they discover a vacant cabin and move in. Will leaves to find food but does not return. The next morning, Tom discovers him unconscious at the bottom of a ravine with a seriously injured foot. She gets help from local quadbikers, who take them to their mobile home community. Tom refuses to let Will be taken to a hospital. Dale, a local woman, calls a friend who is a former Army medic to treat Will's injury.

Will and Tom are given an empty trailer in the community while Will's injuries heal. The medic also suffers from PTSD and lends his service dog to help Will with his nightmares. A local teaches Tom about the beehives. Tom likes their new home and tries to make a rental agreement with Dale, the trailer's owner, without telling Will. Eventually Will insists they leave. Tom protests, telling him "the same thing that's wrong with you isn't wrong with me". After leaving the RV community, Tom stops and says to Will, "I know you would stay if you could". They tearfully hug and part ways. Tom returns to the trailer community, and Will returns to the woods. Later, Tom hangs a food package in the forest for Will to find.


  • Ben Foster as Will, a military veteran suffering from PTSD
  • Thomasin McKenzie as Tom, Will's daughter
  • Jeff Kober as Mr. Walters, a tree farm owner
  • Dale Dickey as Dale, the owner of the trailer park
  • Dana Millican as Jean Bauer, Tom's social worker
  • Michael Prosser as James, Will's social worker
  • Derek John Drescher as Larry, a man with whom Will exchanges medications for money
  • Isaiah Stone as Isaiah, a person whom Tom befriends


The film was directed by Debra Granik and written by Granik and Anne Rosellini, based on the 2009 novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock.[3] The novel is based on a true story.[4]


Principal photography took place during the spring of 2017 in Portland, Oregon.[5] Eagle Fern Park in Clackamas County was used for the main forest scenes.[6]


Dickon Hinchliffe, formerly of Tindersticks, composed the film score, released digitally by Lakeshore Records.[7][8] This is his second collaboration with Granik, after Winter's Bone.

  1. Forest Park (1:18)
  2. Rough Country (2:02)
  3. The Runner (1:13)
  4. Taken (1:35)
  5. Drive to the Farm (2:26)
  6. Raid (1:38)
  7. Return to the Forest (2:41)
  8. Lost (2:39)
  9. Not That Kind of Trouble (1:30)
  10. Tiny House (0:57)
  11. Shelter (3:38)
  12. The Long Night (1:40)
  13. Finding Will (1:33)
  14. Bus Out of Town (2:06)
  15. We Share a Star (2:20)

Off-grid musician and former Dream Syndicate and Opal member Kendra Smith contributed the original song "Moon Boat" (her first solo recording since 1996), which plays over the end credits.[9][10]

Oregon Folk musicians Michael Hurley and Marisa Anderson have cameo performances in the film.[11]


The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018.[12][13] Shortly after, Bleecker Street acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film.[14] It was released on June 29, 2018.[15]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 100% based on 241 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Leave No Trace takes an effectively low-key approach to a potentially sensationalistic story — and further benefits from brilliant work by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie."[16] It is the most reviewed film to hold an approval rating of 100% on the site.[17][18] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 88 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[19]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote: "In its best moments, Leave No Trace invites you to simply be with its characters, to see and experience the world as they do. Empathy, the movie reminds you, is something that is too little asked of you either in life or in art. Both Mr. Foster’s and Ms. Harcourt McKenzie’s sensitive, tightly checked performances are critical in this regard."[20] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it "Fiercely involving in a way we're not used to, made with sensitivity and honesty by director/co-writer Debra Granik, it tells its emotional story of a father and daughter living dangerously off the grid in a way that is unnerving and uncompromising yet completely satisfying."[21] The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw praised the movie as being a deeply intelligent story of love and survival in the wild, and gave it a perfect score of 5 out of 5.[22] Mark Kermode named Leave No Trace his favourite film of 2018.[23]

Peter Debruge of Variety gave the film a mixed review: "There's a listless, almost meandering nature to the story. The film's conflict is clear – this is no way to raise a child, and allowed to continue in this fashion, Will risks both his life and Tom's – and yet there’s no sense of where the script is headed, and no urgency to its resolution."[24]


Top ten lists[edit]

Leave No Trace was listed on numerous critics' top ten lists for 2018, among them:[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
Gotham Awards November 26, 2018 Best Actor Ben Foster Nominated [26]
Breakthrough Actor Thomasin McKenzie Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society December 3, 2018 Best Supporting Actress Thomasin McKenzie Nominated [27]
National Board of Review January 8, 2019 Breakthrough Performance Thomasin McKenzie Won [28]
Top Ten Independent Films Leave No Trace Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association December 9, 2018 Best Director Debra Granik Won [29]
Best Actor Ben Foster Runner-up
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 13, 2019 Best Young Performer Thomasin McKenzie Nominated [30]
Satellite Awards February 17, 2019 Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama Ben Foster Nominated [31]
Best Adapted Screenplay Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini Nominated
Best Independent Film Leave No Trace Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 23, 2019 Best Feature Anne Harrison, Linda Reisman and Anne Rosellini Nominated [32]
Best Director Debra Granik Nominated
Best Supporting Female Thomasin McKenzie Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society December 10, 2018 Best Picture Leave No Trace Won [33]
Breakthrough Artist Thomasin McKenzie Won
Best Director Debra Granik Won
USC Scripter Award February 9, 2019 Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini and Peter Rock Won [34]


  1. ^ a b "LEAVE NO TRACE". Stage6.
  2. ^ "Leave No Trace (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Busch, Anita (February 22, 2017). "'My Abandonment' From 'Winter's Bone' Director Lands Financing From Bron, First Look". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Pressley, James (April 6, 2009). ""My Abandonment:" a homeless girl's life, blessed and blighted". Seattle Times. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (January 22, 2018). "Movies with Oregon roots get Sundance Film Festival buzzing". OregonLive. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Mohan, Marc (June 20, 2018). "Story of father and girl found living in Forest Park is now a movie". OregonLive. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  7. ^ Film Music Daily Staff (June 29, 2018). "New Soundtrack Releases: 'Leave No Trace', 'Black Mirror: Arkangel' Pre-order + New Bandcamp Releases and More!". Film Music Daily. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  8. ^ filmmusicreporter (June 15, 2018). "'Leave No Trace' Soundtrack Details". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  9. ^ Moon Boat. YouTube. August 6, 2018. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  10. ^ Strouse, Kristy (June 26, 2018). "Interview With Debra Granik, Director Of LEAVE NO TRACE". Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  11. ^ "Leave No Trace". Female.co.au. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  12. ^ Debruge, Peter (November 29, 2017). "Sundance Film Festival Unveils Full 2018 Features Lineup". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  13. ^ "Leave No Trace". Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. Retrieved January 17, 2018.
  14. ^ Hipes, Patrick (January 27, 2018). "Debra Granik's 'Leave No Trace' Lands At Bleecker Street – Sundance". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  15. ^ Busch, Anita (April 26, 2018). "'Leave No Trace' From 'Winter's Bone' Director Debra Granik Bows First Trailer". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  16. ^ "Leave No Trace (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  17. ^ "8 Movies With 100 Percent Ratings Worth Streaming Before Netflix's The Irishman". Cinema Blend. October 7, 2019. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Haring, Bruce (May 28, 2021). "'Paddington 2' No Longer Perfect On Rotten Tomatoes After Negative Review". Deadline. Retrieved June 1, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ "Leave No Trace Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  20. ^ Dargis, Manohla (June 28, 2018). "Review: 'Leave No Trace' Is a Very American Story About Survival (Published 2018)". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Kenneth Turan (June 28, 2018). "Review: 'Leave No Trace' is a reminder that the movie world is better with Debra Granik in it". Los Angeles Times.
  22. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (May 13, 2018). "Leave No Trace review – deeply intelligent story of love and survival in the wild". The Guardian.
  23. ^ Kermode, Mark (December 30, 2018). "Mark Kermode's best films of 2018". The Guardian. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  24. ^ Debruge, Peter (January 21, 2018). "Film Review: 'Leave No Trace'". Variety.
  25. ^ "Best of 2018: Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  26. ^ Sharf, Zach (October 18, 2018). "2018 Gotham Awards Nominations: 'The Favourite' and 'First Reformed' Lead the Pack". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  27. ^ DFCS (November 30, 2018). "The 2018 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards Nominations". Detroit Film Critics Society. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  28. ^ Lewis, Hilary (November 27, 2018). "'Green Book' Named Best Film by National Board of Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  29. ^ Sharf, Zack (December 9, 2018). "LAFCA 2018 Winners: 'Roma' Takes Best Picture, Debra Granik Named Best Director". IndieWire. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  30. ^ Hammond, Pete (December 10, 2018). "Critics' Choice Awards Nominations: 'The Favourite' Tops With 14, 'Black Panther' A Marvel, 'First Man' Rebounds; 'The Americans' Leads TV Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  31. ^ "2018 Awards Nominees". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on January 2, 2019. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  32. ^ Erbland, Kate (November 16, 2018). "2019 Independent Spirit Awards Nominees: 'Eighth Grade' & 'We the Animals' Lead". IndieWire. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  33. ^ "2018 San Diego Film Critics Society Award Winners". San Diego Film Critics Society. December 10, 2018. Archived from the original on December 11, 2018. Retrieved December 10, 2018.
  34. ^ McNary, Dave (February 9, 2019). "'Leave No Trace,' 'A Very English Scandal' Win USC Scripter Awards". Variety. Retrieved March 25, 2019.

External links[edit]