Walden’s Premise Is Better Than Its Execution

Photo: courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment.

Imagine the Americana-set comedy of a Coen Brothers film, coupled with the energy and creativity of a ’90s slasher, further accompanied by a dark, harrowing mystery a là Seven. Writer-director Mick Davis’s Walden is essentially a marriage of these three elements—which sounds like a formula for a wild success, and Walden surely takes its premise to some fun and interesting places. There is plenty to enjoy about Walden from its lead’s energy and commitment to its cheeky setting and tone. it’s unfortunate, then, that the film fails to really form a cohesive whole from its clever inspirations.

Walden centers on the titular character (Emile Hirsch), a court stenographer and a nice southern boy in the small town of Alexandria, Georgia. The film follows him as he witnesses the sheer depravity of the people that go in front of him in court every day. As he sees more and more miscarriages of justice, Walden slips further down his own dark path and begins to take matters into his own hands.

Image from WALDEN depicting Walden (Emile Hirsch) praying on his bed.
Walden (Emile Hirsch) has very good intentions. Photo: courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment.

Walden is, at its core, very silly. The film’s appeal, where it can be found, comes from the zany nature of seeing Hirsch’s twee, bow tie-wearing gentleman commit some gruesome murders. The film reaches its real charm when it allows him to be completely insane and revel in the film’s own silliness.

Hirsch, furthermore, commits to the bit in a big way. He’s pretty cartoonish, but not in a bombastic kind of way. It’s the way he carries himself, the way he’s dressed, and, crucially, his soft, gentle tone of voice. He is a wonderful and charming presence, whether he’s having a nice lunch with his boss or enacting gruesome revenge on those released from the wrong courtroom.

It’s a shame the film around him is often so lifeless. the first thing one probably notices about Walden is how boring it is to look at. The film’s exterior scenes are often just as dull and washed out as its interiors, where Walden goes between nondescript courtrooms, classrooms, and bars. It has some moments where the film might take a stab at creating some kind of interesting image, but it all too often falls flat. It looks, sounds, and moves like an episode of a CBS procedural.

That’s before even getting into how heavily Walden features, and how awkwardly it handles, its two cop characters, detectives Hunt (Tania Raymonde) and Kane (Shane West). The two detectives are on the hunt for a child murderer, but they do precious little actual detective work. It is a bizarre side plot that feels phoned-in, and the film doesn’t seem to know exactly why it spends so much time on this. To  dig into it beyond the surface would be to spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that its eventual payoff feels trite at best and pointless at worst.

Image from WALDEN showing detectives Hunt (Raymonde) an Kane (West)
Hunt (Tania Raymonde) and Kane (Shane West) do precious little detective work. Photo: courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment.

Walden also spends a good bit of time satirizing the south and its social dynamics, also seemingly with no real goal in mind. This aspect of the film mostly concerns Walden’s short and reserved romance with Emily (Kelli Garner), his rival in a competition to break the world record of words typed on a stenograph in one minute. Their relationship is cute until it gets bogged down in emotional weight and complexity that feels even more contrived than the rest of the film. It has its moments, particularly one scene where Walden meets Emily’s parents, but it’s mostly unremarkable.

The film also concerns itself with Walden’s own mommy issues and his relationship with his father. Here yet again the film just kind of throws elements at the wall without really doing anything interesting or meaningful with them. We see flashbacks of Walden’s mother acting abusive towards him as a child before leaving him and his father, and we see adult Walden’s strained relationship with his father as a result, but it’s in this way that Walden left me with so much confusion. There is so much here to enjoy, so much here that can be mined for really fun, silly horror and satire. But Walden can’t commit; it instead gets bogged down in police drama and half-assed mystery that isn’t done in any particularly interesting way.

What is so unfortunate about Walden is thus how much the formula for a solid zany slasher is there, but the fun isn’t there, mostly because the film doesn’t seem to allow it. There is a good film to be made out of this character navigating strange southern social norms, going to his bookish job, and committing horrible crimes in contrast with such a self-serious world. It’s just unfortunate, then, that Walden is mired in drab, boring writing and filmmaking.

Walden is a film that has its enjoyments, and Walden himself is a very fun and endearing horror anti-hero. I would love to see more of him in some way, But not like this.

Written by Chris Duncan

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