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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DEATH VALLEY -- Movie Review by Porfle

Sort of a sandy, sun-blanched noir, DEATH VALLEY (2015) forgoes gut-punch visceral impact for a more snakelike seductive quality that simmers until done.

After a cop picks up a terrified, traumatized girl on a lonely highway, crying "Dead! They're all dead!", we flashback to her tearful story as she spins it back at the station.  Two odd couples set out across the desert from L.A. to Vegas on a brand-new road that hasn't even been opened to the public yet--ensuring a privacy they'll soon regret--and are shocked when a woman in nothing but her lacy underwear leaps in their path and starts blasting away at them with a gun. 

They hit her, crash the car, bury the body, and set out across the desert in search of a parallel highway which is supposed to be within walking distance.  But during this "trudge through the desert" sequence, some dramatic revelations emerge between the characters that really liven things up and keep them--and us--on edge. 

For one thing, TV and movie producer Billy (Lochlyn Munro, IN THE NAME OF THE KING 2: TWO WORLDS, JULES VERNE'S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, UNFORGIVEN) and Annie (Katrina Law, "Spartacus"), the aspiring actress he's on his way to Vegas to marry after a one-night courtship, still have a paper-thin relationship and thus certain revelations might tend to dim the blush on the rose of their tentative love.

As for the other couple, prison parolee Roy (Nick E. Tarabay, excellent as the devious Ashur in "Spartacus") and his wife Jamie (Victoria Pratt, "Heartland"), who just might've gotten it on with Billy the night before, are at an even more volatile crossroads which will not end well.  When these four people get out in the middle of nowhere with too much booze, too many pills, and a situation growing hotter than the burning sands (including yet another dead body or two), it's a powderkeg just waiting for something to set it off.

A surehanded subtlety is the order of the day as this deceptively simple storyline gets deeper as we go farther into the desert.  Prolific TV director T.J. Scott shows a deft touch for this kind of slightly-bent character drama with elements of the predicament movie and the adult thriller mixed well into an off-center, off-balance puzzler that keeps us guessing who's not what they seem and who's a lot badder than they let on. 

Scott also makes great use of beautiful desert locations, photographing his actors against picturesque Southwestern backdrops that capture the expansiveness of their surroundings and their vulnerability to both the elements and to irrevocable fate itself.

Each cast member is fine. The ubiquitous Lochlyn Munro is a particular hoot as Billy, a typical obnoxious, low-level Hollywood type who always has hot irons in somebody else's fire.  For fans of the epic TV series "Spartacus", it's great seeing Nick E. Tarabay and Katrina Law in something that continues to take good advantage of their talents.  Victoria Pratt as Jamie manages to evoke our sympathy in the smaller role of the emotionally-conflicted Jamie. 

The pressure cooker finally blows its lid in the closing minutes when all the mysteries are revealed and all the masks come off.  While hardly a steamrolling action epic or mind-blowing drama, DEATH VALLEY is well-rendered, performed with verve by a cracking good cast, and doesn't leave the viewer feeling stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Tech Specs
Runtime: 88 minutes
Format: Widescreen
Sound: Stereo
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Country: USA
Language: English


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