Wednesday, September 23, 2020

In a Valley of Violence (USA, 2016)

The average adult usually has around 206 bones in their body (down from around 270 at birth), and if they are in any way lucky, one or two might be creative. The director of this flick, Ty West, probably has several creative bones in his, for he tends to make interesting films — House of the Devil (2009 / trailer) & Cabin Fever II: Spring Fever (2009), for example — even if not all are always a success (see our review of The Innkeepers [2011]). His genre of activity has tended to be that of horror, but he obviously decided that he wanted to explore some new terrain in 2016 and, trying his hand at the classic western, came up with this movie here, which, like most of his movies, he also wrote.

Trailer to
In a Valley of Violence:
If movies had bones, one would be hard placed to say that West's western, as predictable as it is, really has a creative bone anywhere in its body, but for that, it at least obviously has the right ones, for it is damn fine semi-spaghetti oater, far less interested in being an opera or revisionist than simply telling its tale and entertaining the viewer. From the pre-credit sequence to the final scene, not to mention the fabulously retro and true-to-its-source credit sequence, one has seen something similar somewhere else — but, you know, sometimes the most common ingredients also make a damn fine meal. (Comfort food, so to speak.) Especially if you know how to tweak the ingredients, which West does often here: the hero is not really a hero, the bad guy (John Travolta of Lonely Hearts [2006]) not really all that bad, the hot-headed son (James Ransone of Sinister I [2012] and Sinister II [2015]) and his whore (Karen Gillan of Oculus [2013]) are both caricatures, and the women in distress (Taissa Farmiga) a total ditzy blabbermouth. And then there's Jumpy (Abby), the wonder dog, not to mention a deputy, Tubby (Tommy Nohilly), who, instead of simply doing what he's told, goes on a "this ain't my job and my name ain't Tubby" screed when the shit hits the fan, and a big final showdown that is in no way heroic…
Yeah, you've seen it all before, more or less, but West adds a bit of, dunno, jalapeno or soy sauce or something to the traditional salt and pepper. And to his (and the viewer's) luck, he's also extremely well-supported by a small, tight cast who all play their tropes very well. The final result is a movie that does a damn good job at taking the viewer not for a fun gallop but for a fun trot. And if it isn't really into the sunset, it is at least to an ending that infers that our hero, the Man with a Name (Ethan Hawke as Paul) — who has a history, has no noble intentions, and only finally gets involved for good ol' fashion revenge — might maybe have gotten the girl and, if not, might have at least achieved some sort of sense of personal redemption or closure.
It's a shame that the movie was such a flop, for it is not a movie that deserves such a fate. Give it a go, you'll probably like it.
PS: To plug some of our Short Films of the Month, if you happen to be Western-minded person, dare we suggest that you check out the following three shorts?
March 2011: Ring of Fire (2000) 
June 2013: The Backwater Gospel (2011)
July 2014: The Gunfighter (2014)

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