Simultaneously dark and beautiful, VALLEY OF SHADOWS is a Nordic drama that taps into the instinctual fears of a young boy journeying out of childhood through surrounding traumas and tales of mythology. With it being only April, I can already see VALLEY OF SHADOWSbeing the sleeper hit of 2018, as it possesses numerous components that make a great film. It is as unique as it is beautifully crafted, presenting an eerie score and atmosphere, all while being shot on gorgeous 35mm. This film dictates a different kind of horror through wild imaginations and slow building tensions that sit unsettled in the pit of your stomach.
Created in the tradition of Scandinavian Gothic, writer director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen tells the story of a remote Norwegian town recently plagued with the mysterious killings of local sheep. Young Aslak (Adam Ekeli) is told by his friend Lasse (Lennard Salamon) that these slaughters were committed by a werewolf that lives deep within the forest resting just outside of the village. After his dog Rapp runs away, Aslak ventures to find him and sets out to unravel the mystery of the possible beast that resides in the woods, all while battling his own imagination and childhood traumas.
Not your conventional horror film, VALLEY OF SHADOWS roots itself deep within the essence of The Brothers Grimm and symphonic fairytales. Obtaining inspirations from such tales as Peter and the Wolf, this film follows a story that is largely illustrated by dark imagery and a brooding musical score. The plot is strong enough on its own and allows the music and natural sounds to lead you along the way. Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting score is brilliant, combining the native elemental sounds of creaking branches and bubbling brooks with his orchestral tones and synthetic howling winds. Music is crucial for a film like this, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the mark to achieve a deeply unsettling and lonely atmosphere guided by a score of deep groans and chants.
Although powerful in stature, VALLEY OF SHADOWS doesn’t go where you think it might, which may leave certain audiences feeling unfulfilled. But as previously stated, this is meant to be an unconventional film not using physical scares, effects, or an abundance of gore to induce fear. The fear that director Gulbrandsen is trying to produce is created through a child’s mind and runaway imaginations. How a child feels and perceives reality, especially at Aslak’s age, is unstable and not fully developed, resulting in configurations that rest somewhere between reality and mythological fiction. This is a very smart film, housing a multitude of transformative layers. Aslak is eventually forced to become self-aware and grow on his journey, transcending from one world to another. This is brought about through traumas that he experiences throughout the film, which include the mention of his violent and estranged older brother, the slaughtering of the local sheep, and the disappearance of his dog. VALLEY OF SHADOWS really taps into the mind of a child and how their perceptions of fictitious beasts and settings symbolize their surrounding problems.
Without question, this is definitely my favorite horror film of the year thus far. It is full of strength, unnerving, yet subtle tension, and dark beauty. This film has a macabre but dreamy glow to it, allowing it to stand out as a unique piece of artwork that contains beautiful filmmaking and a mysterious premise.