July 30, 2008

DVD Review: Death Valley

A group of twenty-somethings decide to escape the hustle and bustle of their daily lives and head out into the desert to have some fun at a wild all night party. At first, all is fun and games, but then the harsh light of day exposes them to the world and they are about to see the darker side of humanity. What follows is a battle for their very lives as they tick off the wrong biker gang, who then lay siege on this secluded patch of land in an attempt to make the group pay for their indiscretions. Can you tell me what movie that sounds like? Adjust a few minor details and a similar description could be used for any number of horror films, from the A-list to the Z-list. It just so happens to describe Death Valley perfectly. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is the question.

Death Valley (originally called Mojave when it was made back on 2004) purports to be based on a true story, and I do not doubt it. However. I just suspect that the details have been greatly exaggerated and potentially even completely fabricated. Isn't that how things tend to go? Someone reads a story, gets a glimmer of an idea and then tries to expand it into a film. If you go by that, you could conceivable say every film was based on a true story as the writers had to get their inspiration from somewhere, right?

Anyway, this comes from a long line of true story films. As I sat there watching it, one film kept coming to mind, Wolf Creek. Now, they are not exactly the same, but they both have similarities in structure. Young people go somewhere they probably shouldn't, encounter someone, said someone terrorizes our protagonists, usually with some sort of terrible end for a few of them.

This particular day sees some friends take Josh (Eric Christian Olson) out to a rave, where they do some drugs and have a relatively good time. The next morning they discover their car has been broken into and their battery missing. With no place to go, they head off to find some local punks they spied earlier. The meeting does not go quite as planned, shots are fired, people are hurt, and before you know it, the punk returns with his gang leader and a whole mess of other punks on bikes. All you can do know is try to predict who is going to die first and take a guess at who will emerge the hero.

The problems with this film can broken down to two very important things. From a movie lover's standpoint, the characters are terribly weak. I did not have any reason to care about them, they are not developed beyond the surface level. With shallow characters there is nothing to identify with, there is no heart to latch onto, so when they start dropping like flies, I start to look forward to their deaths. From a horror lover's standpoint, there is virtually no blood and gore. There are a couple of gunshots and you see some people with blood on them, but I would not call this a gory movie at all. This is a couple of tiny cuts away from being a PG-13 affair. On both counts it loses to the similar Wolf Creek, well it may be close on the character development, but Death Valley still winds up trailing.

The performances are flat, despite the presence of a couple of recognizable faces who have turned in better work elsewhere. Leading the cast are Eric Christian Olson (The Last Kiss, License to Wed) and Rider Strong (Cabin Fever). The former just comes across as bland, while the latter is just annoying.

Death Valley is the feature debut for the writing/directing team of David Kebo and Rudi Liden, and they have not made a feature since. The concept, albeit a "true" story, never takes off and suffers from lackluster writing and bland directing. Yes, the structure is a common one, but one that has been used to great effect in the past and likely will in the future, just not here.

Audio/Video. Nothing to complain about here. The transfer seems a bit flat, but it isn't a bad one. The video is presented in widescreen and the audio is Dolby 5.1. It looks and sounds just fine.

  • Making of Death Valley. This is a pretty standard featurette with some set footage along with interviews with the primaries. (3.5 minutes)
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes. This kicks off with a couple of alternate versions of the opening scene. Nothing of any real import, for the most part, you can see why they were cut. (~15 minutes)
  • Gag Reel. Standard set goofs and flubbed lines (7.5 minutes)
  • Teaser Trailer. They lost me at "It was supposed to be.... Safe." (1 minute)
  • Previews. Trailers for Bone Dry, The Attic, The Other Side, Hack!, Baby Blues, and Night Junkies.

Bottomline. When all is said and done, this is not a good movie, but it is not offensively bad. Death Valley is the kind of movie that is just there. When you are watching it, you have no problem continuing to watch it, but will have no desire to revisit it. Pretty much all I can muster is: "Meh."

Not Recommended.


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