The Dark Valley (2014): Cinematic Platinum from Germany

Still from The Dark Valley with Sam Riley
One of the wonders of Netflix is their inclusion of foreign films or World Cinema. The Dark Valley is a great example of the high quality films that are produced across the “pond.” This 2014 German film is pure cinematic Platinum and serves up an European western that delivers so perfectly that it is just a matter of time before Hollywood decides to remake the thing and mess it up.

Directed and co-written by Andreas Prochaska (Dead in 3 Days, A Day for a Miracle) and starring Brit actor Sam Riley (Brighton Rock, Maleficent) The Dark Valley is a brooding, moody German western. A secluded and tiny community in the mountains is ruled by the powerful Brenner family. One day a stranger arrives and things start to happen.

Riley plays Greider; a photographer from America, who comes to the small village to take pictures of the people and the surrounding area. He asks permission to stay and after being insulted, and over charged, he is allowed to stay. Greider is not just there for photography, however, he has an ulterior motive and nothing is going to stop him from accomplishing it.

This film brilliantly takes the western mythos and transplants it to Europe. A tale of patient revenge (Is that the reason that the photographer listens to the metronome at night to lull him to sleep?) set against a beautiful and barbaric backdrop of Austria. In the village, new brides do not spend the wedding night with their new husbands, instead the patriarchal head of the Brenner clan reserves the right to have sex with the virgin bride until she falls pregnant.

This “right” has peopled the village with Brenner’s sons and daughters. This is the barbaric side of the tale. The beauty is in the mountains, the silence of the snow clogged passes and the ominous woods around the area. After the photographer arrives, he keeps a low profile allowing himself to be bullied by the Brenner sons, six of them in total.

The first Brenner son dies in a logging accident and then another is killed by a trap. Things heat up when the girl Luzi (Paula Beer) that Greider lodges with, and who narrates the story, gets married. Riley, as the photographer bent on revenge, is superb. No one can project menace and deep rage like this actor – just watch his Pinkie in Brighton Rock – and his quiet but savage projection is brilliant to see.

This film should be watched in the original German with subtitles. The English dubbing not only loses much in the translation of the actor’s real intent and performances but also sounds abysmal. The only odd thing is that Riley has a rather high-pitched voice and his character in German, or Austrian, sounds quite a bit deeper.

The plot and the events of the film are slow, concise and full of suspense. The action takes a long time to get started and then does not really “take off.” The viewer will not care that the film takes its sweet time in getting around to the climax. Even the gorgeous scenery in the area does not detract from the mounting curiosity of why Riley’s character is there and what he wants.

An absolutely brilliant film that can be viewed in either English or German with subtitles, The Dark Valley is a 5 star western set in the Austrian mountains. “Are there really Indians?” Luzi asks. “Yes,” says Greider. There are no indians in this western but villains aplenty and it is entertaining enough that the running time of just under two hours is not too long at all.

Do not miss this one.

Devils of War (2013): Get Ze Cliche

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Written and directed by Eli Dorsey, Devils of War is his first feature film. One can only hope that he has learned his lesson with this film and either changes his career choice or makes a better feature film next time.

Starring Sunt Coordinator/stuntman Jerry L Buxbaum as the “legendary” leader of a four man team that is, unsurprisingly, full of three more “legendary” men. Buxbaum can be said to be the biggest name in the film. His elite team has been tasked by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) himself to extract a mole from the occult headquarters of Hitlers paranormal Nazi division.

In a race against time and demons, the small squad must rescue the mole and stop evil from winning the war.

I am sure that this must have seemed like a good idea on paper. Hell, just re-reading my short synopsis of the film makes it sound better than it actually is.

There is no doubt in my mind that this film was most likely intended to be a parody or a satire of old war films like The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone but with a supernatural twist. Unfortunately the film is so bad, it isn’t funny. It is just horrendously awful.

The lines are leaden and so full of stereotypical clichés that it hurts the ears to listen to them. The acting is so wooden that a tinker-toy could have acted rings around any chosen member of the cast. The story, which as I said above, wouldn’t be bad except for the dodgy effects, plot holes, poor cinematography, ridiculous script and bad acting, could be a good one

I will say that there are a couple of instances where the special FX is fairly impressive, but only in a couple of places does it rise above mediocre. The explosions are obviously CGI as well as some of the sets. Again, I had the feeling that this “obvious” CG schtick was on purpose as part of the “gag.” It just doesn’t work.

From obvious clinkers like the lead character referring to an aluminium warehouse as a castle and the actors playing the Nazi occult specialist Thorn and the two scientists looking like the geeks that hang around the Radio Shack store or PC World in the 21st century, this film was so bad I felt cheated at the purchase price of three pounds sterling (or about 5 bucks).

I had no idea that they had silicone in 1944!
I had no idea that they had silicone in 1944!

There were some laughably bad lines (generally from the Nazi members of the cast) that did bring the odd snort of laughter from me while watching. Lines like: “Get ze Girl!” and “Bring me ze virgin.” Not to mention, “She got avay.”

Sure, we know that “movie German’s say Zis und zat, und ze, but not quite zo cartoonish-ly.

I could write on for another 500 words about how bad this film actually is, but, I will stop fairly quickly. I don’t want to run this into the ground here. I do want to point out that with the availability of digital equipment that is being used widely in the Independent market right now, there was no reason for the film to look bad as well.

Amazingly, IMDb gave this film a score of 2.8! I can only assume that Dorsey or someone on the production side of things handed a few bucks under the table to give the movie some kind of score.

My final verdict is not 2, not 1, not any stars out of 5. I can only feel that this film might find an audience amongst the more “drug induced” viewers. Because the only way that this film could be entertaining would be if the target demographic was the “high-as-a-kite” clubs of the world.

Avoid at all cost and if it is offered to you for free?

Pay to watch another film!

The "tip-off" should have been the fact that the film is referred to as a "Cult Classic" on the cover!
The “tip-off” should have been the fact that the film is referred to as a “Cult Classic” on the cover!

Deathwatch (2002): Evil in the Mud

Written and Directed by Michael J. Bassett  Deathwatch was Bassett’s first time at bat as a director. All in all not a bad start as either a writer or director. The film looks good, it sounds good and Bassett benefited from having a very talented cast to work with.

Set in 1917 during World War I, Deathwatch follows a small bunch of survivors from Company Y. The majority of the company have been wiped out by a machine gun nest. Sgt Tate (Hugo Speer) gets caught in German barbed wire and the youngest member of the company, Pvt Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell) is too terrified to help him get free. Morning comes and the men attempt to move forward. They suddenly  find themselves in a fog or mist. Thinking that this is a gas attack the men don their gas-masks and attempt to carry on.

After the fog clears the men find they are right on top of a German Trench. There seem to be very few German soldiers so the men decide to capture the trench and hold it for British forces. They shoot a few soldiers, who appear to be shooting at something further down the trench. They kill one, lose another and capture  the remaining soldier for interrogation.  As they spread out in the trenches they find a large amount of dead German soldiers. A lot of them seem to be caught up in their own barb wire.

Things are decidedly weird in this trench. As they go about destroying portions of the trench in order to make it easier to defend, they start hearing noises. They also start acting strangely and are apparently hallucinating. They decide finally to question the captured soldier.  Using French, Shakespeare translates what the German soldier is saying, the trench is evil and they must all leave it or die. Pvt Quinn (Andy Serkis) knocks the German out and wants to kill him. He is denied this and generally wigs out, although Quinn doesn’t seem too tightly wound to begin with.

And just when you thought things could not possibly get worse, they can and do go down hill rapidly.

Bassett choosing  World War I as a backdrop was a stroke of genius. The First World War centred on trench warfare. Thousands of lives from both sides were lost as they attempted to storm the enemies trenches. Usually fortified with heavy machine guns and cannon, they were practically impregnable. As most of the action took place on the ground, (air attacks were limited to the use of steel darts dropped on the trenches, dropping crude bombs and dropping mustard gas)  casualties on both sides was high. The British in particular suffered huge losses due to the lack of experience of their class driven commanding officers and because the people who were making the decisions were miles from the action.

The general mood of the film is dark. It seems to be constantly raining in the film with the end result of everything happening in mud. The Company survivors have no contact with their command except on a captured radio that ceases to work after they receive  only one transmission from command stating that no support is coming for them.Bassett manages to mix the atmosphere of the war with  supernatural evil. The evil oozes slowly in the trenches at first but the longer the soldiers stay there, it’s presence and influence begins to pick up speed,

The film was not received very well when it was released in 2002, but that seems to be mainly because a lot of the props and images used did not fit the time period. Apart from the obvious mistakes, it is still an impressive film and I would recommend it to anyone.