THE DARK VALLEY (Das finstere Tal) [2014]

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Directed by Andreas Prochaska

Written by Martin Ambrosch (screenplay), Andreas Prochaska (screenplay), Thomas Willmann (novel)

Starring: Sam Riley, Tobias Moretti, Paula Beer


This Austrian film played last year at a German film festival, but stupidly I was too lazy to go out and catch a screening. After watching it recently, I really regret the decision as it would have looked stunning on a big screen. There is so much scenery to chew on and absorb as we follow a lone American, Greider, who has come to a small town up in the Alps, apparently to take photos of the valleys using a camera, a box that looks utterly out of place within the old town, much like Greider himself. Given the film is based in Austria, the name Greider is a clue as to what this film is about, and it isn’t anything new, especially for a western. However, it has enough meat on its bones to warrant further viewings, and the execution, for the most part, is amazing.

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The town Greider arrives in operates in a certain way, all overseen by ‘Old Brenner’ and his six sons. I went in blind which made the way this town works fascinating and confusing at times, in a good way, so I won’t go into details, other than to say that the way the town operates revolves around young, newly-wed wives. It is at times disturbing, but much like The Homesman and The Salvation, it is a portrayal of how women were treated years and years ago. It is heavy emotionally, which means we genuinely feel for the characters who are on the receiving end.

As mentioned, the film is a cinematographic treat. Every scene looks amazing, whether it is inside or out, and some of the transitions between scenes are incredible. Depth of field and focus, or the lack of it, is also used extremely well. Compounding this is excellent sound design overall, from the haunting ambient/classical soundtrack to the creaking of wood under the heavy feet of men walking on old wooden floors and the sound of the spurs on their boots. The sound design is reminiscent of Ran, as the sound of horses trotting is also very prominent.

It is an extremely immersive experience, so much so that I watched it twice within a week.

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However, there are some weak links. The narration throughout the film is extremely unnecessary, as it strips away a layer of mystery that surrounds Greider, which is one of the best aspects of the film. Ruth’s crush Sam Riley is a big reason for this, he is very convincing as the strong, silent type whose actions speak louder than anything he may utter.

Another fault of the film is the use of a modern song during the one action set-piece of the movie. It ripped me out of the experience, and this is made worse by the fact that slow-motion is over-used. This part of the film is choreographed well, leading me to wonder why slow-motion is used at all. And yet again, when it comes to hand to hand combat, not only is it horribly shot, it also ends in an extremely predictable fashion, making me wish that these writers could come up with a close-quarters fight scene that doesn’t end in a horribly clinched way.

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But these faults can be forgiven as the film is such a treat to watch. It is filled with symbolism, which is another reason to watch this film more than once. The camera, the crucifix, the factfive beer(1) that Greider, unlike the other men in the town, is always clean-shaven. What these mean to the main character and the film as a whole is for the viewer to decide, and that is a reason alone to watch this movie. Add to that the stellar acting, the incredible soundtrack, the amazing visual display, the nice twist on a very typical western storyline…. Yep, this is a film that deserves your attention.

One beer short of a sixer

5/6

 

 


And because the film looks so stunning, some stills. The first three show how well silhouettes are used…

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The next three demonstrate how well focus and depth of field is used…

Tobias Moretti in "Das finstere Tal"

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One of the Brenner sons posing for Greider’s camera…

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20 Comments on “THE DARK VALLEY (Das finstere Tal) [2014]

  1. Your review caught my interest but the stills you posted has me completely convinced. Added to the list.

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  2. Wahooo!!! I think we are in agreement about the rating, it’s not perfect but definitely has a ton of positive stuff that outweighs the negative. Glad to hear you love Sam here! He’s fantastic as a strong, silent type isn’t he? Like in Control, he’s able to communicate a lot without saying anything, but I think he’s even better here.

    As for the use of modern song & the slo-mo, initially that bothered me a lot but upon second & third rewatch I actually liked it. I actually like the song choices here, it has that eerie/haunting atmosphere that fits the story.

    So this played at a German film festival in your town? Yeah I wish I had seen this on the big screen too!

    Like

  3. Ah, you beat me to it. I’ve been flirting watching this one and something else seems to grab my attention. Now I want to watch it. It was Ruth who liked the film and got me interested in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah Ruth got me onto it as well, after I initially missed it when it was playing at a festival here. Its a great movie, and from what I heard, is spoken in a slightly different dialect to normal German. Some of the words were different

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just watched it! Yes, I didn’t like the modern music at the climax. What a creeepy perversion of religion and gross valley. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn it was based on a true story. The voice over didn’t bother me as much as it did you, but upon reflection, yes, I suppose it wasn’t necessary.

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      • So glad to hear both of you like this film! I was a bit worried since I amped it up so much, ahah. It was so haunting and definitely a harrowing *tradition* that I’m glad someone actually took it upon himself to avenge the people in that town. Yeah the dialect might be different as it’s set in Austria? I saw a video of Sam talking about this and that he’s glad his character didn’t have much dialog as his German isn’t very good 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I noticed a few words were different, like ‘thank you’ was something different from ‘danke’ but for the most part it was normal German. Probably some slang in there too that is unique to this particular dialect.

        I wouldn’t have known Riley’s German wasn’t very good, he sounds extremely natural speaking it.

        This one is -definitely- haunting, if it weren’t for Goldstone I’d say this is the best western of recent years. Though Goldstone isn’t technically a western cos its based in today’s society, but the template is very similar. Kinda like No Country For Old Men ya know… a ‘modern western’.

        Dark Valley tho is the best proper western I have seen in a long time. Much much better than The Hateful Eight, better than The Salvation and The Homesman, both of which I really enjoyed. Have you seen The Homesman? TLJ directed it, its a feminist western ;P

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I think Sam’s German was very convincing, he’s just such an underrated actor.

        Isn’t it interesting we’ve got a ‘proper’ western from Austria? Clearly the filmmaker is a big fan of classic westerns, but he’s able to make it his own.

        I haven’t seen The Homesman, that’s the one w/ Hilary Swank right? I really should give that a watch since it’s rare to see a female-driven western.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes that is the one, she is quite good in it as this hardened women, a ‘spinster’ (I had to look that up when I saw it hehe) who takes on the role of what should be one of the men’s job – transporting three mentally unstable women across the Wild West… all of them are damaged from abuse from the men in the town. Its quite a heavy, somewhat depressing movie, though TLJ’s character provides some great comic moments. Its worth a watch 🙂

        And yeah, Sam Riley is awesome in this movie. I had only seen him in Control, he looks soooo different! I really need to watch Control again, as I haven’t seen it since I was diagnosed with epilepsy. It’ll be an interesting watch I think!

        It is cool that Austria has managed to come up with their own spin on the western. It is a great genre, and there have been some really good examples recently. Hopefully the trend continues… I wonder what the Magnificent Seven will be like?

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  4. Great post 🙂 Speaking of westerns cause this looks like one, did you ever see the Australian western The Proposition? It is quite good. BTW, I saw Suicide Squad Wednesday and I actually loved it 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds very intriguing. I’ve only seen Sam Riley in that Ian Curtis biopic Control, in which I thought he was brilliant and I’ve been hoping to see him in more stuff since. I’ll definitely try to check this out, if I’m able to find it.
    Great job as always man, both reviewing and bringing obscure, underrated gems to our attention.

    Like

    • Thanks a ton for the kind words brother!

      Control is heavy, especially for me seeing Curtis also had epilepsy. Apart from the famous band part, it brings back a lot of harsh memories.

      This film really deserves to be seen man. Riley is great too, plays the strong silent type very well. Somewhat reminiscent of Harmonica… He plays the mysterious character very well

      Like

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