In a Valley of Violence Is a Vengeful, Darkly Comedic Thriller
by Olivia Armstrong
Ti West, writer and director of modern cult horror fare like The House of the Devil and The Sacrament, likes to set his narratives in the grey area between good and evil. His characters are careful about showing us their hand of cards — and the scenarios in which he places them often harness a subtle undercurrent of dread. Watching his scenes unfold, one is aware something terrible will certainly happen, it’s just a matter of when. In a Valley of Violence, West’s seventh directorial feature is his first to branch out of his horror roots and into a Western-comedy hybrid. Here’s what you need to know.
Year of Release: 2016
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
The plot in a sentence: In a fictional 19th-century western town, newcomer Paul (Ethan Hawke) causes friction between the territorial Gilly (The Wire’s James Ransone) and Deputy Sheriff Marshal (John Travolta).
Why you probably haven’t heard of it: Ti West may be a big deal within the indie horror community, but his films aren’t exactly blockbusters. He’s also not known for a singular flick. West’s movies are usually low-budget and plot-driven than they are character explorations and he’s constantly experimenting with his directorial style. (i.e. stylized opening scene of The House of the Devil vs. the hand-held mockumentary feel of The Sacrament).
Who you’ll recognize: In addition to Hawke, Ransone and Travolta, American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2, also star.
Why you should watch: The movie weaves between western and comedic period piece, and uses familiar archetypes — gunslingers, whiskey guzzlers, damsels — as pitch-black comedy devices. West almost endearingly pokes fun at the genre while drumming up a sinister twist hidden beneath the surface. Travolta, who is seldom seen within the indie film circuit, brings an unexpected complexity to his law-abiding character, grappling with the uncertain danger of what’s unfolding in his small town.
Which HBO Character would watch? The Man in Black (Ed Harris) of Westworld would get a kick out of Gilly’s relentless perseverance to rule the valley.