Synopsis: Four strangers on a drunken wedding dash from LA to Vegas hit a mysterious woman in the desert and must overcome injuries, the elements, and ultimately each other to survive.
Release Date: October 20, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Crime, Drama
There has quite possibly never been a more appropriately titled movie than Death Valley; not only is it set in the desert area after which it is named, but there’s plenty of death to be had in that breathtakingly cinematic valley.
Death Valley is about a movie producer named Billy Rich (Freddy vs. Jason‘s Lochlyn Munro) and his actress fiancé Annie Gunn (Katrina Law from “Arrow”) who, along with newlywed tourist couple Jamie and Roy Dillen (June‘s Victoria Pratt and Nick E. Tarabay from “Spartacus: War of the Damned”, respectively), decide to take a spontaneous whirlwind trip to Las Vegas. On the desert road out to Sin City, the foursome encounters a blood-soaked girl in the middle of the road firing a gun at them – and they hit her. The girl dies, and the car’s engine block is damaged, so the hapless tourists are stuck. They start to walk for help, figuring that the more populated highway that runs parallel to the desolate road that they are on is fairly close, but as they get deeper into the hot desert, their secrets start to come out – and so do the additional bodies.
Written by T.J. Scott (“Gotham”), who also directs the film, and Brad MacPherson (“1000 Ways to Die”), Death Valley swings to both sides of the cinematic spectrum. At times, it’s a tense character study about four people being pushed to the edge of sanity in a contained-yet-wide open setting. At other times, it’s a bunch of sophomoric dribble, crippled by brainless dialogue and wooden performances. Interestingly enough, the two rarely overlap; parts of the movie are either painfully bad or shockingly good, and there’s very little middle ground. The plot is full of shocking revelations and jaw-dropping surprises; it’s just a shame that the clever twists are interrupted by unnatural arguments and unrealistic situations.
And then there’s the ending. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Death Valley concludes on a weird note. The film doesn’t answer any of the questions that it spends the previous eighty five minutes or so raising, it just provides a keen final twist and then it exits – stage left. The movie feels like it should have about another ten minutes to it, just to sort out the loose ends, maybe have Dr. Richman from Psycho pop in and save the film by explaining things. As it is, however, the conclusion of the film is extremely unsatisfying.
While it has some good ideas and does contain snippets of brilliance, Death Valley falls a little short of expectations. The fact is that the concept of the film has been done before, and better; heck, it was done better in a 1991 episode of “Tales from the Crypt” with half the characters in a third of the running time. It has its moments, but Death Valley is more famine than feast.
Death Valley was shot on location in the actual Death Valley National Park that is located on the California/Nevada border, and the film has a stunning look because of it. Director of photography David Herrington (“Republic of Doyle”) does a masterful job at capturing the desolation, the isolation, and, well, just the intense heat of the desert setting, accentuating the details in the boiling sand, the sweaty characters, and the scorching asphalt. Much of the film is captured in wide, sweeping shots that recall the Tatooine scenes from the Star Wars movies, grand-scale Hollywood western images that emphasize both the vastness and the seclusion of the desert landscape. The scenery is magnificent; it makes the viewer want to visit the location, except for the fact that it looks hot, like Africa hot, like Tarzan couldn’t take that kind of hot. So, if the point of Death Valley is to make the viewer feel the same heat and desperation as the characters, the mission is accomplished, and it’s mostly due to the skill and talent of cinematographer David Herrington.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): T.J. Scott
- Producer(s): T.J. ScottBrad MacPhersonTaylor Williams
- Screenwriter(s): T.J. ScottBrad MacPherson
- Cast: Katrina Law (Annie Gunn)Lochlyn Munro (Billy Rich)Victoria Pratt (Jamie Dillen) Nick E. Tarabay (Roy Dillen)Kelly Hu (Greenstreet)Jeremy Ratchford (Lucas Kern)Juliette Beavan (Holly Fields)Cela Scott (Lyla)
- Editor(s): Bert Kish
- Cinematographer: David Herrington
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Juliette Beavan
- Music Performed By: Sean Beavan
- Country Of Origin: USA