March 31, 2018 Valley of Shadows (Movie Review)
“What we don’t understand scares us, so we need a monster to blame.” The search for that monster encompasses the new Norwegian Drama/Mystery, Valley of Shadows, originally titled Skyggenes dal, which makes its American debut at WHAT THE FEST!? on Friday, March 30, 2018, at 7:00PM, thanks to Film Farms and Celluloid Dreams.
In a small town in the Norwegian countryside, sheep are being slaughtered under mysterious circumstances. Curious as all youngsters are, adorable, little blonde Aslak (Adam Ekeli in his acting debut) wonders about these bloodied creatures, much in thanks to his elder friend Lasse (Lennard Salamon in his acting debut). Whispering in bed during a sleepover, the boys hatch a plan to go up into the forest, on the mountain, in search of what they believe to be a werewolf. Despite their failure to discover said mythical beast, the boys return home where the police have turned up at Aslak’s home, questioning his mother (Kathrine Fagerland: Varg Veum – Bitre blomster 2007, Varhaug short 2012) about the disappearance of his elder brother.
Despite the daunting circumstances occurring around him, Aslak finds comfort in his most loyal friend, his Border Collie, Rapp. On a rainy afternoon, while out for adventure, Rapp hears something and disappears into the woods. Dwarfed by the immensity of the forest, fearing the loss of his four-legged bestie, Aslak returns home to tell his mother about the missing Rapp. When he awakens the next morning to find the black-and-white pooch still gone, Aslak will take matters into his own hands in an attempt to discover Rapp’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, though the woods are lovely, dark and deep, the fog encroaches on the largest, puma feet, leaving the youngster lost in a overwhelming landscape. What follows next is a hauntingly beautiful tale of one little boy alone in the woods.
Shot entirely on 35mm film and clocking in at 91 minutes in-length, Valley of Shadows was directed by Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen (Scream documentary short 2010, Everything Will Be OK short 2011) and is a feature-length debut for this immensely talented director. Additionally, the film was written by Gulbrandsen and Clement Tuffreau (Sam Was Here 2016). Billed as a Drama/Mystery, Valley of Shadows is presented in Norwegian with English subtitles, and is a tale done in the tradition of the Scandinavian Gothic. What this all means is that this is a darkly lush film, a modern fairy tale that plays out like a dramatic mystery but with an intensity and a haunting quality far beyond a simple whodunnit.
Considering that the bulk of this production rests upon the shoulders of Ekeli (as Aslak), it is an astounding testament to this youngster’s skill that the film never once flounders despite having a minimalist script. This is common with many European films which do not seek to fill every available moment with superfluous dialogue, such as their American counterparts.
However, relaying a story with largely body language and movements throughout a landscape is a challenge even for a seasoned actor, and here Ekeli translates a grandiose tale flawlessly with his little body. Childhood is a gentle mixture of brazen fearlessness and yet an overwhelming fearfulness, and Ekeli displays this marvelously as he wanders throughout the formidable Norwegian forest; his performance is pure prose.
Complete with a stunning, largely classical score, this is a film that is not to be missed. Like the finest poetry, Valley of Shadows is a tale that leaves behind a haunting residue of unanswered suspicions; each viewer will walk away with their own interpretations, asking their own unique questions. There is no right or wrong here, but rather an intelligent story that wanders through stunning landscapes to weave the shadows of a little boy into the strings of your heart. A beautifully done piece of fine art that is fully enjoyable and transcends language, CrypticRock give Valley of Shadows 4.5 of 5 stars.