Lately I’ve been on a psychological horror spree, especially after watching Smile. Those Who Walk Away most certainly fits this category. It almost slipped past my radar but was brought to my attention via Infamous Horror and Millennial PR, who kindly shareda screener with me.
One Shot LTD’s Those Who Walk Away was written by Robert Rippberger and Spencer Moleda, produced by Robert Rippberger and MT Kent, and directed by Robert Rippberger. Available on streaming, the film stars Nils Allen “Booboo” Stewart (Seth Clearwater of The Twilight Saga, Disney’s Descendants) and Scarlett Sperduto (Strive). Here’s the official synopsis:
Welcome to the scariest night of your life.
After Max and Avery meet on a social media app for a first date, their evening takes a perilous turn when they end up at a local haunted house, the home of ‘Rotcreep,’ a sinister creature that rots your body and soul with one touch. As the night turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse, Max and Avery begin to realize the trauma they share may either save them or erupt into an unforgettable nightmare.
Right away, I liked that there was an opening credits sequence. It’s something you don’t see all the time in movies anymore. Yes, it costs extra money for someone to do the opening titles, but nerdy people like me notice stuff like that and appreciate it. It gets you pumped up and excited for what you’re about to watch (remember the opening sequence for “Night of the Demons”?).
Let’s get into characters – Max (Booboo Stewart) is adorably awkward. He’s simultaneously eager and terrified by his first date in what seems like forever. He’s been taking care of his sick mother(this revelation is folded into a phone conversation with a supportive friend). Then there’s Avery (Scarlett Sperduto). It took me longer to warm up to her character because she seemed subdued at first – but to be fair, both of them were awkward. Their initial scenes together accurately depict the uncomfortable “two people navigating each other” first-date small-talk that inevitably has to happen. I like that there’s no rushing with these scenes though. Even when Max is with his friend on the phone, it’s not rushed – just characters being human and in the moment. You can tell Max has a long history with his friend, and this contrasts with his fumbling over words after meeting Avery. This is good for us because we get to see different facets of his personality, and he reveals how he views himself – “I put my foot in my mouth a lot,” “I’m a self-sabotager,” etc.
One thing I wouldn’t have done is walk a long distance with aperson I just met to our destination. Usually, you want to meet the first date at a public place like a restaurant, no? There’s a lot of trust, or maybe recklessness, which they hint at with both characters.There are some deep conversations that happen really fast after the initial awkwardness. Avery asks something along the lines of, if you had to let one person suffer so that everyone else could have total freedom and peace, could you let that happen and walk away? The “walk away” theme is also tied to Max’s sick mother – he couldn’t handle taking care of her any longer. This theme is woven throughout.
Several red-flag things happen with Avery that I wouldn’t have ignored. She’s caught in a lie, and then her friend tells Max that she’s bad news; though her friend redacts his comments, you could tell there was honesty. Max’s dismissal of this once more shows that he’s either way too trusting, or way too reckless. A few other things happen, each revelation gradually becoming more jarring, and I couldn’t help but feel that Max was being pulled into something. His character was prey, and for now he was more than fine with going along for the ride.
With their movie cancelled, Avery suggests they check out a real haunted house. The exterior of this house was so creepy. The first shot of it when they pull up, it’s a small, white, two-floor block of a house, the windows boarded up. It’s on a little hill all alone, and it screams STAY OUT. Somehow, the house has electricity – I don’t think this is addressed. The whole house creaks – props to the sound person and/or post-production.
Avery shares tidbits about Rotcreep, the housebound entity. Once a year it needs a victim, or it will spread its terror beyond the house. Then – BAM – the movie picks up from its initial slow-burn first half. Secrets are revealed that don’t feel too surprising, considering some of the giveaways early on. Max soon finds himself facing Rotcreep, trying to find a way out of the house. He has an ally – a boy named Rudy, who I guess is there as a backup victim, should Max escape, or vice versa. The boy is a convenient addition to the story for Max, and he is ultimately tested.
Much like with The Babadook, Monstrous, The Dark and the Wicked, Smile, and other emotionally and psychologically charged horror films, Those Who Walk Away plays out like a test for Max, who has to face a personally dark aspect of his past, and he willeither succumb to that darkness and rot completely, or stand up against it. During his inner battle, symbols of self-medication and distraction are abundant – television and alcohol the most prominent. (Note: It’s worth mentioning here that we can’t always face dark things alone – there are support and resources available.)
When Rotcreep’s haunting starts, a black boar zips across the room. At first, I thought it might be Rotcreep in animal form, but the boarcan also be a symbol for facing uncomfortable situations with courage.
Rotcreep himself is an interesting monster – he seemed like less of a ghost to me and more of a demon with his rows of sharp teeth. I liked with his first appearance how he winds his hands in circles, almost like pulling an invisible string, drawing Max nearer and nearer. In the final act though, I felt he was underutilized, almost forgotten.
I like that the haunted house gradually changes and almost becomes like a funhouse. The kitchen’s upside down, there’s mirrors everywhere, etc. One critique is that some scenes were very dark;even with my screen on full brightness, it was difficult to make out what was happening. Sometimes that’s intentional, but I wanted to see more of this beautifully rotten, spooky set.
Those Who Walk Away navigates a variety of topics, one of the most important being escapism, running from oneself, running from difficult things. While some might argue that these themes could have been explored deeper, I think there needs to be a fine line between that and the in-your-face supernatural stuff – you don’t want to alienate the audience looking for horror. I think it tries to strike a good balance between both, though the character of Rotcreep could have had a more fleshed out backstory and more screentime. Fans of independent horror and psychological, thematic horror, check this one out! Here’s the trailer: https://youtu.be/AUdrZ45YUVU
Bret Laurie is a professional editor, writer, and horror fan. He contributes film reviews regularly and supports independent horror films and authors through social media. His flash-fiction tale “The Shell” is featured in the DarkLit Press anthology “Beach Bodies.”He recently edited “The October Society: Season One” and “The October Society: Season Two” from author Christopher Robertson.