In the midst of a Western renaissance, we have been spoiled with great films. By colliding the old with the new, fresh voices are bringing a modern take to the genre, sometimes blending in other genres altogether. Ti West has been called a fresh voice within the Horror genre, by some. His breakout hit, The House of the Devil, was treated as a new classic by Horror die-hards. West’s later films, while still critically beloved, have not gotten as great of acclaim. The director’s latest film, In a Valley of Violence, somewhat breaks out of his horror wheelhouse. Parts western, parts horror, Ti West has directed a film that falls as flat as his others do. What makes it more disappointing in this instance is how much potential was here to begin with.
Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abbie (the badass Jumpy the Dog) are drifting through the barren Old West in search of the Mexico border. In order to find water and hope for a shortcut, they cross through Denton, “a valley of violence” according to the locals, among them, Deputy Gilly Martin (James Ransone), his wooden legged father Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta), Gilly’s fiancé Ellen (Karen Gillan), and her sister Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga). After a rough encounter with the brash and stupid deputy, Paul heads out on his way after being given a talking to from the Marshal. Unfortunately, Gilly and his cronies won’t let Paul and Abbie off as easy the Marshal did.
In a Valley of Violence has a fairly simple genre plot that is ripe of B-movie level violence and exploitation. Ti West certainly tries to let his violent flag fly within the last 30 minutes. Hell, West has a fairly entertaining opening and title sequence which would be a great opening for the kind of film he’s pitching to the audience. What proves to be bothersome is the director’s lack of discipline or knowledge in crafting even a decent scene of action, tension, drama, etc. The body count is fairly low for a film of this flavor, but there’s still an effective film if the kills are creative and effectively shot. The only sense of cohesion he’s able to achieve throughout the movie is of his filmmaking incompetence.
As brutal as I may seem, West only earns it with the lack of originality and cheap brutality throughout. This film bears a huge resemblance to a recent genre film we loved (telling you the film it compares to is a bit of a spoiler with that moment that ties the two together is halfway through the film) and only helped me appreciate that other film more. By going as cheap as it does, it makes the rest of the film lose all narrative depth and kills the little fun that was apparent beforehand. Despite all the shit I’m giving the filmmaker (and his cinematographer Eric Robbins, who can’t seem to make anything look decent), I want to give a big shout-out to the cast. I can’t recall the last time I saw a cast that I wished were in the same film but by a filmmaker who could do so much more with it. Everyone is near perfect in the roles asked of them and I’m astonished I’m saying that about a Ti West film.
When it comes right down to it, I’m excited anytime a director that hasn’t done anything for me beforehand premieres material that is full of potential. In a Valley of Violence is full of moments that, if directed and edited (which West also did) properly, would make an infinitely more thrilling and exciting film. Even then, it’s just a film made up of moments that should be exciting that end up adding up to nothing. Ti West disappointed before and he disappoints now. In a quick little introduction to the film, West got on stage to tell us he wanted to make a film where the characters were clumsy and make mistakes. Seems like West took that to heart on his part of the filmmaking too.
In a Valley of Violence
- Casting and performances are exception
- Jumpy the Dog as Abbie is an absolutely astounding performance from any animal
- Directing, writing, and editing by Ti West are all clumsy and disappointing
- Cinematography is unremarkable except for how distracting it can feel
- Sad and unfortunate mishandling of even the most simple of scenes