Away (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

Gints Zilbalodis’s “Away” is one of the most dazzling and fantastic animated movies I’ve seen in years, and I’d be stunned if it isn’t appreciated as a masterpiece down the line. Zilbalodis spent years on this work of love committing to every facet of the production himself, and completing what is a tightly packed and briskly paced epic adventure film that is also deceptively simple in its presentation and delivery.

A boy awakes in the middle of nowhere suspended from a lone parched tree by the straps of his tangled parachute. As he assesses his surroundings, an uncanny entity emerges from the obscurity around him. The boy escapes and eludes the monstrosity, at least for long enough to find refuge, water, food, a few vital tools and clues, and a small bird for a companion. A map he discovers shows him the path back to human company, and a motorcycle, the means to get there. The boy, filled with hope, must move forward as the towering, life-threatening creature shambles after him.

“Away” is a silent adventure film with zero dialogue and absolutely no real verbal exposition. Unless you count the occasional gasp, and the noises from the animals, Gints Zilbalodis opts for a film that shows more than talks about what we’re watching. This gives the audience a chance to soak in the film that’s shockingly subtle, but incredibly unsettling. Director and animator Zilbalodis is very much a fan of Miyazaki as his influence is all over the place the moment we begin “Away.” Everything is vast and open, and absolutely beautiful to behold. But every corner also bears its own kind of menace and hidden danger. Along with the curious monster stalking our main character, it amounts to a journey for safety that’s memorable but unnerving.

Thankfully “Away” isn’t all about visual pleasures, as the story is intriguing on its own. “Away” allows us to interpret a lot of what we’re watching and decide for ourselves what we’ve experienced. Is this all one big vivid dream? Is the young man escaping a material monster or his own personal demons? Is the monster intent on hurting him or does it have more positive intent toward him that we can’t quite understand? Gints Zilbalodis’s “Away” is a true cinematic feat that thrives on its simplicity while also unfolding a riveting tale of survival and the beauty of nature. I truly hope audiences seek it out very soon.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019