Andreas Prochaska’s The Dark Valley

Andreas Prochaska’s The Dark Valley is a dark, grimly paced Euro-western that could have been a great one if only the script was as tight and polished as it’s musical and stylistic elements. Shot in the Italian mountains, it looks absolutely alluring in every single frame, blessed with a stoic tough-guy performance from Sam Riley as a mysterious stranger bent on revenge and a soundtrack full of odd, against-the-grain yet distinct choices. It looks, sounds and feels evocative, but the story that should go alongside and string it all together is just too loosely woven, and as such, interest is lost. Riley’s stranger is not really welcome in the alpine town, especially by the Brenners, a local crime family that rule the roost. It’s a harsh winter, and pretty soon bodies start piling up, victims of an unseen assailant the townspeople just assume is the Stranger. There’s a backstory to the whole thing, some great atrocity committed by these folk decades earlier, and while all the information was presented, in both exposition and flashback, it just didn’t have the emotional payoff or clear-cut grandiosity that a western like this should, especially one as dramatic in every other area. The dubbing over of the German actors doesn’t help one bit either, a choice which I will never, ever support. Subtitles all the way, man. Anyways, Riley is as awesome as ever, it’s really sad that he doesn’t make more films, he’s got a dark star quality that immediately classes up any film he shows up in. The cinematography is top shelf, with a stunning backdrop of mountains all round, detailed period-appropriate production design and costume work. Music is a strong point, with a neat opening credit rendition of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man, and there’s a climactic gunfight that leaps off the screen in bold strokes. It’s just a little less than it should be in areas where the stakes needed to be way higher and draw us into the story, so that when the operatic violence comes, it has heft beyond just looking cool and leaving us nothing to invest our care in. Good stuff, if incomplete.

-Nate Hill

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