Cult horror filmmaker Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) branches out into the western genre with highly entertaining results in a movie best described as “John Wick in the Old West”, driven forward by a crackling script, sharp direction and game performances.
A drifter gunslinger by the name of Paul (Ethan Hawke) cuts through the town of Denton on his way to Mexico along with his dog Abbie, but after a brutal run-in with the local deputy (James Ransone), he’s got nothing but vengeance on his mind.
Though West has always been a prodigious talent of sorts, his latest marks a major step-up for his profile, with this being his first movie boasting an A-list cast, including not only Hawke but also Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga and John Travolta (the latter playing the deputy’s exasperated father).
West’s latest effort is braced nimbly between being a gritty art-house western and a more populist, goofy attempt much like the recent Magnificent Seven remake, which of course also starred Hawke. The script is rife with dark humour and rich, pulpy dialogue that fits the cast like a glove, while the tone is that of a love letter to classic westerns, yet still allowing West to bring a little of his own uniquely sardonic flavour to the table.
His previous horror movies are well known for their slow-burn approach, which frankly fits the western genre far more snugly, making viewers wait and wait for the blood-letting, which is all that much more cathartic and satisfying when it finally arrives.
Stylistically, the pic is also on point; West reteams with his The Sacrament DP Eric Robbins to solid returns, even if the real star here just might be Jeff Grace’s terrific throwback score. The snazzy animated opening credits sequence is also brilliantly stylish and, dare I say, one of the movie’s highlights.
As for Hawke, he’s as reliably great here as you’d expect, capable of sure calm when hanging out with Farmiga’s young maid with whom he strikes up an easy rapport, and ferociously vengeful when pursuing the deputy and whoever gets in his way. The rest of the cast similarly rise to the occasion; Farmiga in particular is fun in a more complex role than it first seems, and though Travolta’s part is a lot smaller than the marketing appears to suggest, he’s got a great dynamic with Hawke, where neither guy really wants to take the other one out, but circumstances force them against one another regardless.
On the slight downside, some of the expository dialogue is incredibly blatant, with Hawke talking to either his dog or himself in order to inform the audience of various tidbits of information. The worst thing in the entire movie, though? A ridiculously out-of-place Wilhelm scream during an action beat. It’s incredibly distracting even if it’s unequivocal proof that the movie isn’t taking itself that seriously, despite the odd burst of grand guignol violence.
Barring a few flaws, In a Valley of Violence is a robust entry into a genre that rarely gets its fair due these days, driven by strong performances and another bang-up directorial job from West, who again proves himself to be one of the most versatile indie directors working today.
In a Valley of Violence is available now on VOD