I find myself repeatedly saying that I’m not a fan of Westerns, but in the last year or so, there have been a slew of Western films within the horror genre that I have enjoyed immensely. The first to breakthrough that stubborn exterior of mine was 2015’s BONE TOMAHAWK, but in my mind I thought that film was just a flash in the pan, something that would rarely be recreated so perfectly again. Then came the announcement that director Ti West, known for such horror films as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and THE INNKEEPERS (2011), would be tackling the Western genre with his latest film IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE. After hemming and hawing about it, I decided to give the film a chance, because as a fan of Ti’s work, I wanted to see if he could translate his style of stylized horror into a Western thriller. I’m happy to report that he can.
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE centers around a mysterious wayward stranger, who wanders into the town of Denton, Texas, otherwise known as the “valley of violence, and through a series of unfortunate events, gets dragged into the crosshairs between the citizens of Denton, resulting in a bloody and violent chain reaction. The film stars an all-star cast of genre favorites including Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, Larry Fessenden and Burn Gorman.
What I liked about this film was that Ti West was about to construct a simple story that was completely cohesive from start to finish. He left no stone unturned and neither did the main character. As I mentioned, I’m not typically a fan of Western films because I find myself bored rather quickly, but IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE kept my attention from the beginning to the end by incorporating action, humor, violence, and witty dialogue. It was a perfect mixture of everything working in tandem and the result proved to be a film that is above and beyond most that are currently in theaters. Along with the well thought out storyline, the film also boasted some of the best acting that I’ve seen from Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. Travolta has kind of become a parody of himself, and most films that he’s in I tend to disregard, but in this one he really shined through and showed just how much of a talented actor he really is. Hawke has had a resurgence in his career through the horror genre in films such as THE PURGE and SINISTER, before taking on some less than stellar roles, so I was happy to see him back and just as badass as ever. But to me, the breakout star was James Ransone, as the troublemaking son of the town’s Marshall. I had only seen him in a few films, and in those roles he played the lovable good guy, so it was great to see him playing the complete opposite of what I was used too.
For those who are hungry for violence and gore, you’ll get your fair share from this movie. There is everything from gunshot wounds, to slit throats, along with buckets of blood for your enjoyment. If you are sensitive to animals being killed, be forewarned that you will see that happen in this film. It’s raw and unapologetic and I almost had to look away from the screen because it felt too real. As far as set design and costume pieces, everything looked like it was pulled right out of a stereotypical Western town. What I really appreciated though was that the teeth, and overall look of some of the characters, didn’t have that “Hollywood glam” to it that so many films try to achieve regardless of the time period in which the characters are in. I liked seeing these actors dirty and gross and unkempt, because that’s how their character is supposed to look. It gave the film a more accurate portrayal of the time and a more believable story.
Lastly, I have to touch up on the score of the film. Not only did it go along with the film seamlessly, it was also incredibly badass. The film’s composer, Graham Reznick, has composed the majority of Ti’s films so it made sense for him to use Graham again. The score had a similar feel to what you would hear in a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film and it almost felt like the music was a character in and of itself. The music was definitely something that was enjoyable as it helped move along the pacing of the film and made the overall viewing experience that much more entertaining.
All in all, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, is a wonderfully executed film with top-notch acting and solid storyline that is entertaining and bloody. I’m glad I put aside my differences with Western films because had I not, I wouldn’t have had the chance to watch one of the better films to come out of 2016. This is a solid movie and one that I think people should see regardless of if they like Westerns or not. Though it’s not a horror film, it still warmed my horror loving heart and I walked away from this movie with a smile on my face. This is not a film to miss so make sure you rent it or buy it when it comes out this month!
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE is now available on Blu-ray and DVD