Most films I review, I have no personal connection to. ‘Those Who Walk Away’ is a different story.
In 2019, I heard that an “LA film crew” was in central Illinois, where I live & work. I always considered myself a film aficionado so I thought “this could be a news story.”
I got connected with director Robert Rippberger and Producer KT Kent. There we scheduled a Zoom call, as the COVID-19 pandemic had started to ramp up, and my article became the first story the movie received.
Now, about a year and a half later, the film is on the cusp of releasing to theaters. It’s an exciting time for Rippberger and star of the film, Booboo Stewart.
I just got off a follow-up interview with both Robert & Booboo, and they both tell me they’re thrilled the world will finally get to see the film.
This was the first film I’ve seen that was done as “one take.” There were edits made, but you follow Max (Stewart) from a sunny afternoon, through golden hour, and eventually into the night. The movie never stops. There’s never a time lapse to the next morning. It’s all just one night of betrayal and horror.
The movie begins with Stewart on the phone in a park. He’s talking to his friend about life, where you learn Stewart had just left from being his mother’s caretaker. There was trauma he experienced and he decided ‘enough was enough’ and he had to leave. You also figure out that Stewart is about to go on a date with a girl he starting talking to on a dating app.
He walks out of the park and meets Avery (Scarlett Sperduto). This is when you really start to realize the longevity of the one-take. You literally follow them away from the park, into downtown Chillicothe, and then in the car as they drive from Chillicothe to Dunlap, Illinois.
Max and Avery both seem to have things in their past they’re trying to “walk away” from. Max’s is the pain from his mother, but what is Avery’s?
The original plan was for Max and Avery to see a horror film at the town’s theater. Turns out there was a “bomb threat” called in and the movie was cancelled. This led the pair to stop by a local bar, take some shots, and then Avery gets an idea.
Since the horror film was cancelled, why don’t we go to an actual haunted house? (paraphrased) Avery asks him. Max seems not to be a big fan of the idea, but he also realizes ‘hey, I kinda like this girl,’ and he wants to see where the night goes.
Cue possibly the most difficult shot in the movie. Robert and Booboo told me one of the hardest parts of shooting this film was the scene where Max and Avery get in a car and drive from Chillicothe to Dunlap. And this was the perfect time to make the drive too. It was golden hour, and central Illinois has some pretty epic sunsets. Especially in this area, which is very rural, the countryside is very flat. So you’re able to see the entire sunset happen if you’re in the right spot. The drive takes about 25 minutes, so how can you show the whole thing without boring an audience? Time lapse. What took 25 minutes or so was condensed down into just a few brief minutes. It was quite the artistic scene and a different feel from the rest of the movie. You saw the pair laugh, kiss, talk, and go into a night Max would never forget.
Just to get into the car, the camera had to switch hands at least two times, Rippberger told me. You had to make it seem completely seamless to get the camera in the vehicle and still make the audience feel like they’re there with Max and Avery.
Then they get to the haunted house.
When I did my original coverage, I was able to connect with the local fire department, who gave me a walk-through tour of the house before they full burned it down. We’ll get to why the fire department was there later on.
They walk into the home and Max is unsure of what’s going to happen next. He likes Avery, but he’s starting to worry about her intentions. As he should. They walk upstairs and there’s a bedroom where Avery begins to tell Max a story. It’s about a haunted house that’s cursed by “Rotcreep,” a sinister being that rots your flesh and soul just by touching you. Fun fact, Rotcreep is also played by Booboo’s dad, Nils Allen Stewart.
Max begins to get freaked out by Avery’s story about the beast, when she drops the bomb on him that the story is about her. She eluded earlier in the film that she and her brother were running from “someone,” but she never said who. Rotcreep is her father. And the home Max and Avery are sitting in is her childhood home where they were abused as children.
Max said ‘forget this’ and tried to escape, just to be knocked out by Avery’s brother Phillip (Grant Morningstar) and then handcuffed to the bed. Turns out, Avery lured Max to the house so Rotcreep can feast on his flesh.
She tells Max that Rotcreep needs one soul a year to feed on for him to leave Phillip and Avery alone. Max became the next victim, but it turns out he’s not alone.
He finds a little boy, Rudy (Bryson JonSteele) hiding from Rotcreep in the home. Avery and Phillip also found Rudy recently and left him in the home to die, but somehow he was able to avoid Rotcreep.
Now it’s time for Max & Rudy to work together to try and get out of this hell hole. The next scene really shows the creepiness of the house. You get to see the halls, the stairwell, and finally the basement. When I walked through in broad daylight, I was even amazed at how freaky it was.
Sadly, Rudy dies along the way and Max is left to find his own way out.
Horror films are often most remembered by how the movie ends, so I don’t want to ruin all of that for you. But let’s just say it was a dark night that went up in flames, and the theme of betrayal came back into play.
This is why the fire department was involved in the film. The crew did a set burn on the front of the house and needed the firefighter’s supervision to do it safely. They were able to have an awesome looking fire at the end of the movie, and from what the fire chief told me in 2020, everybody was safe.
The film does a good job at being creepy and suspenseful, but still having those jump scares along the way.
The score was a nice touch. While this is no Avengers or Spider-Man No Way Home, Ripperberger and the crew did a nice job of picking the underlying tones that helped set the tone of the movie. Both Booboo Stewart and Scarlett Sperduto did a great job leading the cast, but Bryson JonSteele and Grant Morningstar were great supporting roles. While dissecting each actor’s performance, I thought to myself that each of them has a bright future in the industry.
The set also really helped tell the story. Chillicothe and Dunlap are both fairly small towns in central Illinois. Chillicothe has this classic small town downtown look that you just gotta love. I think I enjoy it so much because it reminds me of where my grand-parents lived, Higginsville, Missouri. You’ve got shops, restaurants, and the Town Theatre with the bright lights that make for picture perfect moments. And of course the home was perfect. It was a dilapidated farm home in the middle of nowhere. A couple months after the film, the firefighter’s actually burned the entire thing down during a training exercise. It was deemed unsafe to live in anyway, so there was a statewide training held right there where the firefighters got some hands-on experience.
The cast and crew told me the community was amazing. People pitched in to help, asked “what can I do for you?” and just wanted to watch the action happen! That’s the beauty of shooting outside of the usual Los Angeles or New York City. You get a lot of people who are just excited that you’re there, and want to do whatever they can to help you out.
All in all, I’d tell you to check the movie out. I really enjoyed the story, the videography, and the sound of the movie. It flowed nice and the actors showed strong performances. Now the film heads to theaters!
Director: Robert Rippberger
Writer: Robert Rippberger, Spencer Moleda
Starring: Booboo Stewart & Scarlett Sperduto
Theater release: February 11, 2022