Review: In a Valley of Violence

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Actors: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga


In its own harsh, uncompromising manner, In a Valley of Violence scoffs in the face of well-wrought western tropes, and comes away with a delightfully intense bloodbath.  I can say unreservedly that I am a fan of westerns, from the meticulous Italian chaos of Sergio Corbucci’s Companñeros to the somber philosophy of Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country, I love the western genre.  As is obvious from the opening titles which closely imitate the opening credits of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, director Ti West (The House of the Devil) loves it too.  His love of  westerns is most obviously displayed by his eagerness to subvert the genre’s tropes, which he does here by injecting characters with weakness, stupidity, and more than a little comedy.  This comedy most often comes from the committed and somewhat silly performance of a masterful John Travolta (Swordfish, Battlefield Earth, Scientology), who portrays tobacco chewing bravado while his character becomes a strange alternate protagonist.

The story’s central hero is Paul, Ethan Hawkes’ mysterious drifter traveling alone with a dog.  Paul and his strangely intelligent companion, Addie, are linked via an almost supernatural connection.  These travel companions make an ill-fated pit stop in Denton, a town terrorized by the son of the local sheriff (James Ransome), who practices wanton cruelty with impunity.  This character, Deputy Gilly Martin is perturbed when newcomer Paul (Ethan Hawke), fails to respond quickly to his inquiries.  This simple perceived slight leads to a chain reaction of escalations, culminating in a climactic death that is both ludicrous and metaphorically perfect.  The unstoppable expansion and eruption of violence is so reasonless, yet so inevitable, that In a Valley of Violence could be said to make a permanently timely statement about the ease and cost of killing.

These are pretty heavy issues, however, and they might weigh down a movie as violent as this one, but it is saved by the aforementioned Mr. Travolta, playing the sweetest Marshal ever.  Travolta’s character is kind, reasonable, merciful, and hilarious.  Marshal Clyde Martin (Travolta) has one fatal flaw, however, his love for his son.  As terrible as Gilly had become, he was still the Marshal’s son, and family trumps everything.  I think that this, in many ways, is the central conceit of In the Valley of Violence.  That even the most positive emotional reflexes, like a father’s love for his son or a drifter’s love of his dog, can lead to copious bloodshed.

Westerns can be intense, savage, and unapologetically brutal, but they can also be funny, touching, and philosophical.  In the Valley of Violence can do all of these things, but it is one thing above all, a kick-ass western.  The music is dramatic and propulsive; shrieking with energetic violins that sound like stabbing.  The performances are all exemplary, particularly Taissa Farmiga, who brings a mad spirit to the role of Mary-Anne, charming with every nervous giggle.  This is a western of surprising depth and fantastic production, but what really leaves an impression is the sheer fun of it.


Review: In a Valley of Violence

A New Dawn: Chapter 2

The Holdouts

Day 534:

This is my first entry in five months, and now we have almost the whole town back, the commercial district anyway, but life is more hell now than ever.  We finished the whiskey two days ago, and I still drink to blackout nightly, but now I have to use gin to do it.  I hate gin, but if I get smashed on beer I piss myself, and the mash liquor we make tastes like bile.

We watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly last night in the cineplex and everyone dug the bridge scene where civil war guy talks about liquor.  When he says something like “in this bottle is the warrior’s courage,” everyone cheered and smashed bottles on the ground, which is all we do since we ran out of bullets.

Everyone still carries guns around, but it’s been more than a year since the last bullet was fired.  We used to shoot them in the air for any reason.  Angelica used to tell us to fire our guns as much as we wanted at noon on the dot.  She said that this “Aggressive ritual” was necessary for our survival.  Of course our bullets ran out in months, except Angelica’s.  She’s got a cache of guns and bullets, and that’s one of the ways she controls us now.

So we smash bottles on the ground instead.  Now there’s glass on the ground everywhere.  My feet get so hot in my heavy boots from wearing them all day, but it’s important.

She always says freedom is the most important thing, but lately I’ve been wondering about our freedom?  Maybe we could reach out, with radio or something, and we could talk to other survivors.  Angelica says there are no other survivors, but how would she know?

Maybe we should look behind the wall again.  We should be having group discussions about this at least, but Angelica told us that meeting in groups was an indication of insanity and suicidal ideation.  My friend, Judith Fairbanks “committed suicide” by opening her mouth and driving it down on to a butcher knife as hard as he could.  She beat herself severely before this, they said.

It’s ridiculous, and I can tell from the expressions on people’s faces that they know it’s ridiculous, Angelica killed her.  It feels good to write it down.  Angelica killed Judith.

I’ve heard people deify Angelica.  They talk about how she watches them while they sleep and sees them when they wake up.  I don’t think she has any power.  I think she’s mad.

I’m hearing the words “sedition” and “insurrection” spoken in the streets almost daily.  I don’t think it’s coming yet though.  Most of the time when I hear these words spoken, they’re whispered.

I have so little faith nowadays, in anything.  I don’t believe in myself or anyone else.  I don’t think we should have sent the children away, things have gotten grim since then.

No one knows where they went, and most of them were dead anyway.  We’re all dead.  I have to remember to keep saying that; it doesn’t matter because we’re all dead already.  We all saw what we’ve done to make it to this point, we all know.  So why do we need to keep going down that path?

I’ve washed my eyes with clean water and I can see that Angelica must be stopped.

Say this and then step on a crate.  Russel said he has a megaphone that works, so maybe I can trade him something.  Russel likes downers, so wrap him a package.  Then stand on a balcony with a megaphone and yell the truth to people.

Angelica has kept us afraid of her for long enough!  We have suffered and we have died, and things are getting worse daily!  Do you know that tonight Angelica is eating well?  She says she lives with us but she knows nothing of the world we live in.  Many have cried that we need to storm the mall offices, take Angelica prisoner, and put her on trial.  Many voices are calling for revolution, but I think there is another way.

Perhaps human society is nothing but a chain of dynasties and rebellions, but we are a survivor society, we need each other.  We will take Angelica prisoner, do her no harm, and negotiate a peace.

1. All free persons deserve to be treated with respect.

2. Our existence is not contingent on the providence of anyone else.

3. We will mourn our dead family and lost loved ones, even if they were cowards in the end.

4. We will never stop trying to contact other people, and we demand the use of all available resources in order to do so.

5. We will create a court that will hear grievances, the decisions of which will be made by an elected congress.

Possible committee members:  Kelly, Robert, Samantha, Roberta

I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care

They are coming now.  They will soon find me and kill me eventually.  None of this will matter, it won’t matter that I’ve written some of it down, no one will ever read this.  I am leaving this message somewhere it will never be discovered.  If you discover it, congratulations, none of this means anything at all.


A New Dawn: Chapter 1:



A New Dawn: Chapter 2