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.