So, here’s this movie about disenfranchised folks living on the fringes of society, making up their own rules as they go along. It’s a story where nothing much happens, character development is the main attraction, and a young actress, who’s not well known, is featured, delivering a performance that grabs a lot of attention.

This could be a description of writer-director Debra Granik’s 2010 film “Winter’s Bone,” in which Jennifer Lawrence began her ascent to stardom. But it works just as well as one for Granik’s newest, “Leave No Trace,” an adaptation of Peter Rock’s 2009 novel “My Abandonment.”

Set initially in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest, it tells of a fellow named Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), both of whom have dropped off the grid after a family tragedy, and have made their home in those woods. Will, a military veteran, has learned and then taught Tom all sorts of survival skills, which she has completely taken to, and the duo has spent many years moving around to different spots, just trying to carry on with life while evading any authorities — like park rangers — who would rather have them following the rules of “normalcy.”

They sleep in a tent at night, there’s a garden for vegetables, Will has a small source of money — completely legal — that helps get them by, and there are infrequent journeys into a nearby town for supplies.

Father and daughter are happy and content and close to each other. He doesn’t communicate much (Foster is the kind of actor who can get his thoughts across just as easily with his eyes as with his voice), and this is pretty much the only life Tom knows.

But it comes to an end, as they know it, when a little sloppiness leads to them being discovered, followed by some attempts and demands by well meaning but far too “by the books” social workers swooping in and telling them how they must do things from now on. That includes being screened — separately — to check out their emotional health, then to get cleaned up and live under a roof, which is provided for them.

Problems ensue almost immediately. Will, even though he takes it all calmly, feels like a trapped animal. Tom has always considered the woods her home, and home schooling — at which dad is great — the way to get an education. But nothing can come between them. Will is glum and doesn’t like the idea that they’re “adapting,” and Tom starts to become inquisitive, but they both intend to get through this together.

Truth be told, they’re not getting it together, at least not in the way that the rule makers were suggesting. As mentioned at the top, not a lot happens here; the action that drives the film forward is presented in a low-key manner. It’s no surprise that father and daughter are soon back out in the kind of wilderness they find comfortable, which happens soon after Will takes stock of their situation and says to Tom, “This isn’t the way we used to be.”

But their living situation is no paradise. There are the elements, there are health concerns, there is hunger and thirst, there are those pesky authorities. One again, it’s no surprise that things turn dire. But the film somehow remains filled with hope. Both viewers and characters believe that things can work out, even if some of those things must undergo some radical change.

The films succeeds as both a reverence of nature and as a celebration of the human spirit. It also showcases the broad acting talent of Foster, who delivers his most interior performance to date, and cements the idea that Debra Granik knows how to find new talent. The performance she gets out of the young New Zealand actor Thomasin McKenzie leaves the one she got from Jennifer Lawrence in the dust.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“Leave No Trace”

Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini; directed by Debra Granik

With Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie

Rated PG