The Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) has taken us many places over its 11-year existence. We’ve been everywhere from Hell to Space and experienced so many wonderful genres from a musical opera to revenge horror. I had thought that over a decade of screenings that all cult genres had been covered. I was wrong.
The TADFF screened its first western last week with In a Valley of Violence. Starring Ethan Hawke and Tassa Farmiga (An American Horror Story), In a Valley of Violence comes to us courtesy of writer/director Ti West whose name is more closely associated with the horror genre thanks to his efforts Cabin Fever 2 and The Innkeepers.
In the Valley of Violence is a typical western story. Man rides into town, man gets into fight with wrong man, Marshal runs him out of town, man comes back to town to get revenge. Again, typical.
There are some meat with the potatoes. Hawke plays Paul, a drifter whose best friend is his sidekick dog. When Paul enters the small town of Denton, he is confronted by the over aggressive Gilly (James Ransone best known for his roles in the Sinister films). Gilly is the town bully and after a quick altercation with Paul, Gilly is left bloodied after a single punch to his face.
Paul is unintimidated by the inferior Gilly. But Gilly’s father just happens to be The Marshall (played wonderfully by John Travolta) and although he accepts his sons involvement in the provocation, he asks both forcefully and politely that Paul leave town at a moment’s notice. Paul obliges, but when camping in the wilderness that evening, he and his pet are again confronted by the too-proud Gilly and his gang who kill Paul’s dog and leave Paul for dead.
Now, if movies have taught us anything it is that you don’t mess with a man’s dog. John Wick didn’t take too kindly when his mutt was attacked. And Paden (Kevin Kline) held a grudge for years when his best friend was attacked in the underrated Silverado. So when Paul gets the strength to head back to town to get his revenge, you can see the writing on the wooden saloon wall.
Paul heads back to town and one-by-one he gets his revenge. Typical.
In a Valley of Violence had so many things working in its favor. First and foremost is the casting of Travolta as the father-figure that you get the impression should not be f’d with. Travolta is having a bit of a resurgence after his Emmy nominated role in The People vs. O.J. Simpson and although he has a small role here, he reminds us why we loved him so much when was headlining action films such as Face/Off and Broken Arrow back in the 90’s.
The film is gloriously shot and has the look and feel of an authentic western filmed with 21st Century direction. Ti West works from his own script and is in no rush to get to the first act of bloodletting which has become a sort of West trademark if you review The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers as examples.
Where the movie suffers a bit of a setback was in the longer dialogue scenes. Scenes heavy with recited lines drag and seem borderline out of place. A seemingly long conversation between Gilly and his woman (Karen Gillan) regarding her newly discovered pregnancy should have ended up on the cutting room floor rather than prolonged for the intention of humor.
Before the hero rides into the sunset, In a Valley of Violence does give audiences and fans of the genre what they crave. It is a competent western that does nothing to reinvent the wagon wheel but provides entertainment in getting us to the end credits.