Movie review: “The Dark Valley”

I ran into this movie while browsing Red Box, and for $1.50 I couldn’t resist the title or the cover. I’m not a huge Western fan, but as our culture seems to revert more and more into a kind of pre-civilized civilization (what DEVO called “devolution”), classic Western themes have a lot to offer in terms of basic morality themes like justice, law, civic life and organization, and duty. “The Dark Valley” covers these themes in a simultaneously beautiful and brutal way. For its violence (killing in cold blood) and one “excessive affection” scene (though no nudity), this is a film about and for reflective adults. It’s an Austrian film (I recommend the English subtitles rather than the dubbing) and, as such, is deliberately slow moving and intense. Lots of suspense without helicopters or car chases (there is one horse chase, which is pretty exciting). As an Austrian film, it is not rated in the US, though it would definitely be in the R range, for violence. It has been nominated for the 2014 best foreign films at the Academy.

At the cost of ruining the film, the basic story is a classic revenge tale. A stranger (Greider) comes into a community to “clean it up” because of injustice going back many years. Everyone in town is somehow involved (including the weary parish priest), and silently understands the problematic story. In an organized crime kind of way, one patriarch (Brenner) rules the town with the help of his bully sons. They don’t like the fact that a new stranger has come into town, and is disrupting the status quo. According to the late-1800s practice of the area, the young women of the town are duty-bound to the ruling men, and on their wedding nights are required to give themselves to needs of the patriarch or his sons (the ancient and medieval custom of PrimaNocta). As you might guess, most people are fed-up with this custom, and, led by the stranger, the justice begins to roll out. Overall, I would recommend this film to anyone ready to think about moral responsibility in any era of accepted decadence. Let me know if you like it, but remember: it’s brutal.  Blessings!

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