In a Valley of Violence
Written and Directed by Ti West
Starring Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga
Review by Jordan
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of In a Valley of Violence is how little it feels like a Ti West film.
Written and directed by West, whose previous films such as The Innkeepers and The Sacrament showcased his trademark nous for slow-burn horror with a hectic signature, this spaghetti western homage eschews many of his traits to instead pay respect to its genre. It’s simplicity, as well as some questionable writing decisions, render it among the mid-tier of the director’s work, but what it represents is an ability to branch out of a well-crafted niche and also to elicit entertaining performances from screen veterans in Ethan Hawke and John Travolta.
When the villainous locals of a one-horse town enact a random act of violence against a mysterious drifter and possible deserter (Hawke) after he passes through, he goes back on his private vow of peace and returns to gain revenge. There, he is confronted by the diplomatic Marshall (Travolta) and forms a kinship with the bold, out-of-place Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga), and as more is revealed about his past, the likelihood of those who wronged him surviving drastically reduces.
In a Valley of Violence is standard revenge fare, uninspiring from a creative standpoint and imbued with a level of predictability as it fails to defy expectations (the dog is pretty cool, hey? Sure hope it doesn’t di…. oh, never mind). It is also, however, competently made – being a lean thriller with violence to complement its title. Along with the broadening of West’s talents, another indisputable positive is the further emergence of Taissa Farmiga, who offers a counterbalance to the unpleasant nature of the story in a lively performance, with Mary-Anne’s aloof and awkward attractiveness working to prove that goodness can exist in spite of its surroundings.
Historically, westerns have embraced either a grand, sweeping scope to broach a significant time and place, or a gritty, focused tone to delve into the motivations of often hardened men and women. In a Valley of Violence is very much camped in the latter, being a film that remains shackled to its limitations but within its range offers an entertaining exercise in small-scale vengeance. Just don’t get too attached to the dog.