Ti West is pretty well known for his often fantastic work in the horror genre. The House of the Devil was one of the best-crafted horrors of the last decade, while The Innkeepers and The Sacrament were both worthwhile, solid features. So it was interesting when the 36-year-old director announced that he’d be paying homage to the Western with his latest effort, In a Valley of Violence.
Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a drifter with a canine companion. When passing through a desolate town, he is challenged to a fight by the obnoxious Sheriff’s Deputy Gilly (James Ransone). When he loses, Gilly’s father Clyde Martin (John Travolta) casts Paul out of the town, and warns Gilly and the others to leave him be. Of course, Gilly wants revenge, and they set out to hunt Paul down. Thus begins a back-and-forth of brutality and violence.
While the Western genre might not be an ideal fit for Ti West’s directorial style – on the surface at least – it actually works pretty well. He knows how to build tension (which is vital for a Western), and his love of gore make for some thrilling and gratifying set pieces.
The film is also bolstered by some brilliant performances, and praise has to go to the casting directors for some spot-on choices. Hawke, as the mysterious drifter, is perfect. His brooding appearance on screen suggests a dark and painful backstory, and at no point does Hawke seem unsuited to the role. In fact, compare this to his efforts in The Magnificent Seven remake, and you’d argue that this is the better of his two Western performances of 2016.
But West also gets great performances out of his supporting players. While James Ransone is solid, and the likes of Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga perform equally well, it’s John Travolta who steals the screen at times. Travolta is hilarious at times, with one-liners evoking laughter with ease, and other times he comes across so sinister that you hope that his comeuppance is approaching.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the tonal shifts that occur throughout. At times it’s unclear whether West wants this film to be an out-and-out comedy, or whether or not he wants it to be a gritty Western with the odd joke thrown in. While this doesn’t ruin the film, it can feel jarring, and ultimately it never fully allows you to settle to just fully enjoy what’s unfolding on screen.
West’s efforts away from the Horror genre weren’t necessarily mind-blowing, but they were still convincing. In a Valley of Violence is a decent Western, with a terrific lead performance from Ethan Hawke. A little refinement is needed, but West has shown he has what it takes to tackle new material.
Dir: Ti West
Scr: Ti West
Prd: Jason Blum, Jacob Jaffke, Peter Phok
DOP: Eric Robbins
Music: Jeff Grace
Runtime: 104 mins
In a Valley of Violence is available on DVD now.