dark valleyAdapted from Thomas Willman’s The Dark Valley, Austrian director Andreas Prochaska has created a unique visual experience out of the novel, in a film that, stylistically, is not too far removed from classic westerns of old, with a typically placed revenge plot situated within this cinematic landscape. However even the striking aesthetic can not save this illusory, misjudged account of a popular piece of modern literature.

Set in the latter end of the 19th century, Sam Riley plays Greider, an American traveller who seeks solace in a small village comprising of alpine farmers – hoping to stay until the harsh winter is over. Lodging at the home of the widowed Gaderin (Carmen Grati) and her engaged daughter, Luzi (Paula Beer), the estranged photographer Grieder finds himself a target of the local Brenner brothers, who have taken to his arrival somewhat unfavourably. When a mysterious death in the Brenner family occurs, a full blown war between our protagonist the remaining brutes ensues.

Presented almost in monochrome, the way the imposing black trees loom silently over the white snow creates a daunting, claustrophobic atmosphere. Prochaska plays with our senses in this regard, as the brightness of the distinctively white sky is blinding at times, while he moves between dark, indoor scenes and these bright sequences in an instance, almost making you feel as you do when you first leave a cinema, readjusting to the outside light.

It’s the only true redeeming feature to an otherwise underwhelming picture, that struggles to compel, mostly in the lack of a real protagonist to invest in. Not only is it difficult to adhere to this lone photographers’ incredible aptitude for conflict, when up against a clan of intimidating, savage individuals, but he’s not easy to support and to root for, as a quite dislikable character. In one scene he force feeds chunky gold coins into the mouth of an unsuspecting, elderly lady – and not of the chocolate variety either. Who does that? Riley remains somewhat beguiling nonetheless, with a real, natural charm to his demeanour, but he simply doesn’t carry the piece as you would hope for him to, while his barbaric, merciless nature feels somewhat contrived at the best of times.

Talking of contrivance, there’s a frustrating use of contemporary music in this period piece, which can work in stylistic endeavours by the likes of Tarantino, for instance, but not quite so much in this particular offering. It’s symbolic of a film that’s ultimately rather absurd and unintentionally farcical, with so many failed, dramatic one liners and overstated moments that will provoke laughter, when laughter is most certainly not the desired reaction. This takes itself far too seriously and suffers greatly as a result.