Observers could be excused for thinking the combination of the title In a Valley of Violence with the involvement of producer Jason Blum (The Purge, Insidious, Ouija) and director/writer Ti West (The House of the Devil, a segment of The ABCs of Death) means the result is a straight-up slash-and-dash horror film.
As it turns out, nothing could be more distant from the truth. Instead, In a Valley of Violence is a surprisingly satisfying Western delivered with shades of blood-red, dark humor and tongue partially in cheek. Sure, it has some brutal moments, but it’s not the gorefest that its pedigree might indicate.
It helps that West has assembled a solid cast, including Ethan Hawke as Paul, a broken, haunted former soldier who has killed one man too many in the U.S. Army’s war with American Indians. He’s on his way to Mexico with his loyal dog, Abby, to get away from it all.
Hungry and thirsty, they stumble into a one-horse town of Denton (not the Texas city, as there are mountains and the movie was filmed in Santa Fe, N.M.), which is run with an iron fist by The Marshal (John Travolta). Paul isn’t in the saloon long enough to cool down before he runs afoul of The Marshal’s no-account, bully son, Gilly (James Ransone, Low Winter Sun).
After Paul humiliates Gilly in front of the whole town, including his fiancee, Ellen (Karen Gillan), and her younger sister Mary Anne (Taissa Farmiga), Gilly vows revenge on Paul and his dog. That in turn prompts Paul to go after Gilly and his entire crew as well as The Marshal.
Crisply shot by cinematographer Eric Robbins and with a lushly evocative sub-Elmer Bernstein/Ennio Morricone score by Jeff Grace (Meek’s Cutoff, Cold in July), In a Valley of Violence juggles Western tropes with the skill of Wyatt Earp in a gunfight.
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In a Valley of Violence
☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Ti West
Cast: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta
Rated: R (violence, strong language)
Running time: 104 min.