REVIEW: IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

in-a-valley-of-violence

bars

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Western homage is written and directed by Ti West who is known for horror films like The House Of The Devil and the recent The Sacrament. This is a departure for West and shows he can do more than just horror with this tale of revenge. Flick has ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) wandering into the small town of Denton, New Mexico. He is just passing through, but in true western fashion, has an altercation with the town bully/deputy, Gilly (James Ransone). Paul is commanded to leave town by Gilly’s sheriff father (John Travolta), but is pursued into the desert by Gilly and his thugs. Upon being ambushed, his beloved dog, Abbie is murdered and Paul himself left for dead. Surviving Gilly’s attempt at payback, the lone drifter heads back to Denton with death and revenge on his mind.

In A Valley Of Violence may not be perfect, but it is a fun homage to both spaghetti and American westerns. Ti West creates a classic drifter in Paul, a man who grew tired of killing Native Americans senselessly and left the army behind, too ashamed to return home to his own family. He wants no more to do with death, but is forced by the slimy Gilly and his father into picking up gun and knife once more. We also get the classic love interest in young Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) who happens to be the sister of Gilly’s fiancé, Ellen (Karen Gillan) and takes a shine to the handsome drifter. In telling this classic story, West’s horror background does come through. Paul uses an assortment of weapons to gain revenge, including gun, straight razor and bludgeoning a man with his own boot heel. The flashback to the Native American massacre the broke him down is also very reminiscent of his set up for the sacrifice scene in The House Of The Devil. This western is also a bloody one, thought he does not go overboard with it. If West stumbles a bit, it’s with the film’s odd sense of humor. It is a bit intrusive in a few spots such as during the climactic scenes with Paul stalking Sheriff Martin and his posse throughout the town. There are a couple of moments where some humorous dialogue interrupts the tension that West has built, such as after witnessing a cohort gunned down, one of Martin’s thugs (Tommy Nohilly) declares, in a rant, that he no longer wants to be called “Tubby”. The humor is blended fine most of the time, but here it seems to slow the momentum a bit and break the suspense. It doesn’t damage the film, but the climactic showdown could have been tighter and more tense. On a technical level the film looks good. Cinematographer Eric Robbins makes good use of the New Mexico locations and Jeff Grace gives it a homage filled western score that evokes Morricone at times.

West also gets good work out of an impressive cast. Hawke may be no Clint Eastwood, but he plays the tortured drifter very well. Paul is a man who has come to abhor violence, but is forced back into it, reluctantly, by the bully Gilly. His dog Abbie is the rock that what humanity he has left clings to and when she is taken, the killer is unleashed again. Hawke makes Paul likable, yet a bit distant and we do believe he is lethal when the time comes. Travolta is very good as Sheriff Martin. He plays him as not quite a bad guy, but obviously someone who lets his son and thugs have their way around town. He knows enough to not mess with the ex-soldier Paul, but sadly is not convincing enough to his son. As Gilly, James Ransone is appropriately slimy and full of himself. Gilly is a bit too much of a jerk to really be completely menacing and Ransone plays him as someone a bit too over confident to know when to quit. Taissa Farmiga is sweet and spirited as Mary-Anne, the lonely impressionable young girl who falls for Paul and Karen Gillan is also entertaining as her snooty sister Ellen, who is engaged to the bully Gilly. Indie flick icon Larry Fesenden also appears as one of Gilly’s three thugs along with Toby Huss and Tommy Nohilly.

Overall, I liked this odd little western homage and was entertained. The story is common to the genre as are the stereotypical characters, but that is completely on purpose. This is some nice tension and suspense to go with the bloody action and the cast all perform their parts well. If the film falters somewhat, it is in that sometimes it’s quirky humor comes at the wrong moments when things should stay tense. Otherwise this is a fun western from a man who has already impressed with his horror flicks and Blumhouse who continues to support indie filmmakers. Also stars Burn Gorman as a less than typical priest.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 six-shooters.

hard_ride_rating
bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE SACRAMENT (2013)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

sacrament_poster

bars

THE SACRAMENT (2013)

From the director of House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers comes this faux documentary chiller about a supposedly idyllic commune that echoes the real-life Jonestown incident of 1978. The story finds fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) traveling to a remote South American jungle with his friends Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Sam (AJ Bowen) when he gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) about her new life in a religious commune. As the three all work for a New York based multimedia company named Vice, they decide to make a documentary about the commune as part of their visit. And while, at first, the place seems like the peaceful haven it appears, that starts to change upon meeting it’s charismatic founder “Father” (a haunting Gene Jones), a man who might be more about playing God then serving him. Now, the longer they stay, the more they realize something is terribly wrong here and they may not live to present the world the story of Eden Parish.

I have been a big fan of director/writer Ti West since first seeing his low budget horror The Roost and he hasn’t disappointed me yet. The Sacrament is a chilling story of desperate people who fall under the control of a manipulative megalomaniac whose promise of freedom is only made so he can imprison and control them. West does a good job of first making us think that maybe Eden Parish isn’t such a bad place as our media crew interview some very happy and satisfied settlers. But, once Father appears and they interview him, West slowly starts to build tension and chills as there is a malicious underlying meaning to some of his answers. As the night goes on, the tension and chills mount as the 3 men realize that this is not a haven and they may not be allowed to leave. The film legitimately disturbs as our crew become increasing afraid and realize they may be trapped in a serpent’s nest and Ti West’s use of the documentary format helps get the viewer in close. If there is any Achilles’ Heel to this film, it is that it follows history a little too closely and anyone with knowledge of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, know what’s coming. Sure, it’s unsettling to watch unfold but, it doesn’t quite have the shock it needed to really punctuate the rest of the film and give it the powerful climax it needs. It is effective, don’t get me wrong but, as someone who was a teen in 1978 when the incident this is based on occurred… the familiarity did lessen the event’s impact. Overall the film is disturbing, especially when you add in Eric Robbins’ cinematography and Tyler Bates effectively chilling score but, as this event played out in real-life and is historically renown, it does take away the core shock of what transpires.

But in the director’s favor, West also gets good work out of his cast and this helps with the film’s effect. Swanberg, Audley and Bowen all present realistic characters that definitely give the vibe of metro filmmakers, who, especially in the case of Bowen’s Sam, give the impression of being equal parts idealistic and naive. They wade into their documentary full steam ahead realizing only too late they are in shark infested waters. Their fear appears quite genuine. Amy Seimetz is especially convincing as a woman who seems very happy on the outside but, is brainwashed to the point of committing horrible acts to preserve that ‘happiness’ as her leader commands. But, the real star of this show is a truly mesmerizing Gene Jones as Father. Jones presents a man who truly believes what he says and who uses the word of God and the promise of a peaceful life to control and manipulate those around him. He also is not above bending or breaking the very laws of God that he claims to uphold, if it suits his purpose and maintains his control over his subjects. He comes across as that friendly uncle who always greets you with a warm hug but, this time has a knife hidden behind his back. A really noteworthy performance.

In conclusion, I liked Ti West’s The Sacrament. It is chilling and disturbing and the found footage format puts us in the compound with our beleaguered film crew and adds to the tension. The only real flaw the film has, is that it follows a tragic historical event a bit too closely and anyone with knowledge of that incident knows where this is heading. The last act of the film is less shocking because of it but, is still unsettling to watch unfold under the skilled lens of Ti West and the very chilling performance of Gene Jones. Still very recommended.

3 jugs of Kool Aid.

sacrament rating

bars