Review of the Day: “In A Valley of Violence”

Posted by Michael Parsons on November 4, 2016 in / No Comments


Essentially “John Wick” in a Spaghetti Western, only with a fraction of the body count, this dusty flick leaves us hankering for a bit more “bang” for your buck. Luckily, it’s available for only $5.99 on VOD.

The non-committal tone of “In A Valley of Violence” vacillates between Tarantino/Rodriguez and Raimi, grindhouse and campy, yet with the exception of one bloody scene, manages to avoid graphic brutality almost altogether. Westerns are back in, and we’ve seen a lot of talented filmmakers drawn to the genre. Perhaps because it’s so easy to blend, like rap and metal, exemplified to the extreme in last year’s cannibal Western “Bone Tomohawk”, or HBO’s “Westworld” reboot series. This particular movie isn’t especially original, but it still has a lot going for it: Ethan Hawke as the mysterious anti-hero, and John Travolta in his first Western (really???) as a washed-up sheriff who just wants peace and quiet.

The film follows lone stranger Paul (Hawke), an ex-Calvary man of sorts headed to Mexico with dog/best friend Abbie (the film’s highlight, portrayed with adorable verve by Jumpy). He has a sordid past, one that is hazy and in_a_valley_of_violence_posterdeserves exploring beyond a two-minute fever dream that serves as exposition. Paul stumbles upon Denton, a ghost town with a population of roughly ten people; four of them are dippy thugs who have no real purpose other than harassing the occasional traveling salesman.

In the case of Paul, of course, they cross the wrong dude. In fact, he’s really the only dude, other than the bartender, to cross. A one-sided fist fight turns into a fatal tantrum/retaliation by gang leader Gilly (James Ransone, looking a lot like Christian Bale if “3:10 to Yuma” were a comedy). Left for dead in the desert, Paul…. well, you pretty much know the rest.

Much like Hawke’s character, this film feels like it’s just passing through. An awkward relationship that develops between Paul and Mary Anne (Taissa Farmiga), a sixteen-year-old hotel hostess who clings to Paul like a tick and her annoying, tantrum-prone older sister (Karen Gillan) are respectively silly and grating, but the film is otherwise pretty respectable viewing. Hawke is most lively when chatting with the dog, with whom he seems to have more in common than any of the hooligans (or women) he encounters. More hints at the back story, but this onion remains mostly unpeeled. And his character could’ve used a little adrenaline shot in the final act/retribution, though I suppose I could understand why he’d be tired.

I’m happy that writer/editor/director Ti West has stepped outside of his horror niche (“House of the Devil”, “The Innkeepers”), and I have a lot of respect for him as a filmmaker; “In A Valley of Violence” passes muster as a basic Western revenge flick, kind of like last year’s more somber “The Salvation”.

– M. Parsons

Posted in

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *