Director T.J. Scott has done a lot of cool stuff over the years, especially in the realm of television. From mid-90’s shows like Kung Fu and Xena to more modern offerings like Orphan Black and Bates Motel, the man has worked on some of the best television has had to offer for over 20 years. During that time he has done a handful of movies, of which I have seen none. That was until his most recent, Death Valley. Given his success with TV, I went into Death Valley pretty excited, which is why I’m so bummed that I didn’t like it.
Death Valley opens with 4 people in a car headed to Las Vegas. They’re going down a new back road that either isn’t officially open yet or people just don’t know about it. Either way they’re in the middle of the desert and there’s no one else around. The 4 in the car include a hotshot Hollywood producer named Billy Rich (Lochlyn Munro), a would-be starlet named Annie Gunn (Katrina Law) who just met Billy the night before and now they’re engaged to be married, and a married couple, Roy (Nick E. Tarabay) & Jamie Dillen (Victoria Pratt). The four don’t know each other that well, but after a wild night of drinking decided to take this trip together so Billy and Annie can get married in Vegas.
The trip is all fun and games until a half naked girl pops up in the middle of the road firing a gun directly at them. Billy, who is driving, attempts to swerve out of the way, but he is unable to do so in time and strikes the woman dead in the street. Not only have they now killed someone, but this woman managed to fire off enough shots before dying that she did serious damage to the car and it now won’t start. The 4 are now stranded in the middle of the desert off an empty highway with a dead woman at their feet and a car that won’t start. The fun and games quickly turn into screaming and shouting and we get a first third of the movie that feels a lot like the opening to I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Billy decides to make the best of the situation and pops the trunk of the car where he has lots and lots of wine. Everyone starts to drink up which at first leads to more fun but inevitably only results in more fighting. After an hour of so of waiting for another car to come by and having no luck, they decide to bury the dead woman and walk across the desert hoping to find the busier highway. Along the way truths and secrets are revealed about all 4 and it turns out that nothing is what it seems.
I just couldn’t get into this one at all. I tried, I really did. I wanted to like it. It’s T.J. Scott. But man, these characters. The characters are just so unbearable. There isn’t anybody you can root for, which means it’s hard to really get invested. A satisfying ending for me would have been all 4 of these people dying horrible deaths out in the desert.
I don’t believe the actors are at fault, I want to make that clear. None of them give great performances, but I think they do the best with what they have to work with. The script just doesn’t offer much. The dialogue feels like it’s trying to be quick and witty, like it wants to have that Tarantino vibe. It never reaches that level but instead feels forced like it’s trying too hard to be something it’ll never be.
Death Valley does take advantage of its location. The desert is a beautiful place and the filmmakers wisely showcase it the best they can. If you’re of the opinion that the setting can be a character, than the setting would be the one likable character.
Death Valley isn’t a horrible movie but it’s definitely not good either. This is one of those low budget movies that can get lost in the shuffle but it does serve a purpose. It’s one of those movies that could come on the USA Network late on a Friday or Saturday night and if you happen to stumble upon it you’ll likely be entertained enough.
Death Valley is available now on DVD from Indican Pictures.
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