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.