A Dim Valley is a quiet but bizarre drama that sets off in one direction only to blindside.
All seems familiar at the outset. Three guys out on a botany field trip in Kentucky – two students and the prof. The students are the jockish one Albert (Whitmer Thomas) and Ian (Zach Weintraub) who may not be gay but is certainly checking Albert out when he’s wandering around in a towel. The prof is played by Robert Longstreet, whose air of boozy, world-weary sagacity is reminiscent of Roger Allam – all hail. Albert and Ian tolerate each other. Together they tolerate the prof. He tolerates them. Relations are cordial but nothing more.
Out in the woods one day, Ian comes across what writer/director Brandon Colvin clearly want us to think are three wood nymphs or somesuch – they laugh in a tinkling manner while dancing in approved wood-nymph manner, hands snaking upwards like something from a Kate Bush video.
Are they though? Well they have nature-derived names – Rose (Rachel McKeon), Iris (Rosalie Lowe) and Reed (Feathers Wise) – which also lures us in that direction. And these often barely clad women have soon beguiled not just Ian but also Albert and the Prof, the last two somehow in the interim having managed to get themselves arrested by the police for pissing in the lake where they were fishing (ie drinking), in an incident that happens and is never referred to again.
Having charmed themselves into this company of men, it can only be a matter of time before a makeshift party is underway. Drink is drunk, drugs are consumed and Tarot cards are read. The mood becomes intimate and the young women are soon coaxing personal details out of the three men which they normally probably wouldn’t share.
Are they wood nymphs though? This is what Colvin dangles before us like bait in a film that somehow manages to burble along gently while also maintaining a constant sense of foreboding. Are these pretty creatures going to reveal themselves?
It’s not actually the women who reveal themselves so much as the film, which, with two plot detonations taking us into the area of the sexual and the lethal, comes out as being much more interested in the erotic than you’d expect at the outset – the moths and other nocturnal flying beasties these field scientist are out there to catalogue have long been forgotten.
A Dim Valley shares a fascination with pagaan rituals of sex and death and the innocent-till-not atmosphere of Midsommar or The Wicker Man’, but it also seems imbued with something of the spirit of Thale, Aleksander Nordaas’s excellent micro-budget 2012 film in which the folkloric and the everyday collide brutally.
Brutally but quietly. In A Dim Valey there are no raised voices, the shooting style is calm, the lighting deliberately unshowy, the performances muted and the setting is what you’d normally call bucolic, except bucolic suggests nice things.
Remember when indie films were all dark and urban and about a grungy guy with a homunculus in a box?
© Steve Morrissey 2020