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If there is a place on this earth that best seems home for those in need of self-discovery, it is the desert, a setting for many films that have characters lost and wandering in the heat and sand trying to survive. With Valley Of Ditches, a film that centers on a young woman trapped in the dust by a sadistic religious zealot, we once again watch as a woman faces horrific challenges on a personal journey in a film that has many familiar themes while delivering a few surprising and terrifying moments.
Emilia (Amanda Todisco) asks some humbling questions as she lies in the arms of her boyfriend Michael (Jeremy Sless). What happens when we die? Do memories exist if there is no one left to remember them? He comforts her and it feels honest and becomes all the more impactful when we see that it is a flashback, seen by Emilia while bound and gagged in the backseat of a car while watching a figure in the near distance digging a grave. It’s a startling revelation that hooks with great effect. Why and how she got there are mysteries unraveled as the story unfolds.
Directed by Christopher James Lang, who co-wrote the screenplay with Todisco, Valley Of Ditches is not at all what it might seem, using the atrocities of fear and torture as means of penance and rebirth for a woman embattled by a disturbing past. She is not alone in her ordeal, brought to the wide open abyss of the Southwestern American deserts by Sean (Russell Bradley Fenton), who has taken both her and Michael to this place. He is a menacing, spindly young man who quotes scripture as he explains his motivations, looking to see these lovers pay for sins we learn are entirely unearned.
All of this is broken by black and white images of Emilia in Gothic hair and make-up tied to the ground in the form of a crucifix, slowly breaking free as Emilia in the grave works to deny her fate. The metaphor is clear, even as the story purposefully untethers its premise in slow reveals. This culminates in an ending that will be unexpected, even if it stretches credibility, one that is bittersweet and yet more distressing than perhaps what leads to it. That is surely the intent.
That said, Valley Of Ditches isn’t a film heavy on symbolism or even reaching for something ambiguous with its message. There are no questions about who and what, as the film does an admirable job keeping the viewer well-informed, especially considering the broken narrative storytelling approach, but certainly one might ask why. And that’s a good thing as the movie drives us to a questionable conclusion.
Valley Of Ditches is more psychological than horror, with truly only one jarring moment of graphic violence that will repel even hardened fans, though not enough to mar the film as a whole, the act one that in all honesty fits precisely with what the character needs to do both physically and mentally. Otherwise, there are other great moments as well that have surprising impact, and while the micro-budget and some acting moments weaken a few significant sequences, there is enough here to make this a worthy watch.
Movie description: Valley Of Ditches is a 2017 horror thriller about a young woman left for dead in a shallow open grave who struggles to survive in the lost horizons of the open desert.
Director(s): Christopher James Lang,
Actor(s): Amanda Todisco, Russell Bradley Fenton, Jeremy Sless
Genre: Horror, Thriller