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Fantasia Review: In a Valley of Violence
Mr. Ely Vaughn has been a respected, upstanding citizen in sleepy little Smithville, Texas for years. In the man's glory days, he was a star quarterback at the local high school, and as such remains highly regarded in the community as the local undertaker. Oh, and it just so happens that has a hobby on the side of burying people alive. When a couple of clean-cut teens see something weird going on in Ely's house (and one of them ends up dead), their story falls on deaf ears. It's up to the rest of them to prove Ely's guilt.
After wondering how to begin this review, I figured that the best way was for you to look at the cover art for the DVD or (if you're really a sucker) the Blu-Ray. See Dennis Quaid's frowny face in the middle of those two serious-looking not-really-teens? That's probably the best way I can sum up how I felt about this film. How a good actor like Quaid can get put into a crappy film like this is beyond me.
Where do I start? I guess I can start with the only real positive about this film is Dennis Quaid, even if he spends much of the film bug-eyed and smoking one of those eCigs while spitting out lines reminiscent of a villain from a James Bond movie. Quaid tries his hardest to make this work by playing it over-the-top , but it ain't workin'.
How about that writing? Whether it's the nonexistent backstory of Ely and why he's doing these murders or the nonsensical backstory of one of the cliched teens we're forced to root for (something about his sister dying when he was younger and seeing a ghost that left him traumatized), it's just plain awful. The teens themselves are as clichéd as you can get: you have the sensitive guy (see above), the all-star football jock, his girlfriend who starts to fall for the sensitive guy, and the guy who wants to get along with everyone and have fun.
As for the story, it plods along without any sort of real attempt to gain your attention via the use of, well, anything. 'Lazy' would be a good word to use. For a thriller, this isn't very thrilling. Hell, the majority of the film takes place in the dark, and despite the score trying to make us give a sh*t about building a tense atmosphere, it fails on every level. This might have been scary if I was those teenagers raised on the current garbage MTV spits out (save for Beavis & Butt-head), but smart horror fans know better.
Bottom line, lazy can be used to describe pretty much everything else about the film. Apart from Quaid's hamming, the acting is stilted, references to better-written works are heavy-handed (and show just how piss-poor this film was written), and even the directing drags its heels, robbing whatever tension there was left in this film. If you absolutely have to see this film, you really must be the mom of one of the crew. Anyone else will be insulted at what was burned into their disc, and promptly seek the nearest baby to punch.
Video: Seemingly taking the literal route, the 2.35:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer loves its darkness (which is understandable given the film takes place mostly at night). It's a little too dark at times, as the black levels tend to envelope everything but the essential details. During the daytime, colours are decently saturated but muted. No compression artifacts are apparent, nor does there appear to be any artificial sharpening.
Audio: Presented in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround, the film relies heavily on Geoff Zanelli's score to be the source for atmosphere, playing to all channels. Dialogue on the other hand feels uneven in terms of levels, but at least it sounds clear.
For a pathetic attempt at an atmospheric thriller, we get a pathetic attempt at a Behind The Scenes featurette that features no talking head interviews or any sort of narration. Instead, we get two-and-a-half minutes of the cast and crew doing their thing from a crew member's perspective.
Lastly is the film's trailer, which is kind of the antithesis of what a trailer should be. You know, selling the movie to audiences in hopes that they'd like it.
Once again, refer to Dennis Quaid's face on the front cover of the case. That perfectly sums up my thoughts on this one. Boring as all hell with putrid dialogue, lazy direction and devoid of any real suspense. Use it to prop up a wobbly table leg.