Green Valley (2011) – By Josh Samford

Within the world of independent filmmaking, I have seen all genres and barriers crossed it would seem. However, despite what you may think, few films really seem to veer from genre tropes and instead dive into the world of arthouse movie-making. “Arthouse cinema” can be a bit of a dirty term when talked about amongst the genre-film fans out there, but all I define "arthouse" as is simply: unconventional filmmaking. Director Josh Barry and co-writer Jess Lofland are certainly filmmakers who love to dabble in the world of unconventional filmmaking and all that needs to be done to prove this is sit down and watch their feature film Green Valley. A dark and morbid look at friendships and the differing personalities that we hide from one another, Barry crafts a title that will test the patience of his audience but will at no time ever leave them bored.

The story of Green Valley is rather simple. Four long-time friends embark on a journey into the mountains where they intend to have yet another one of their annual partying weekends. As they begin to settle down into their old drinking habits however, the group must deal with their very differing personalities. When one of the four friends plays an extremely violent video, the rest of the group must deal with their emotional response for the duration of this weekend. Will they confront their friend and get it out in the open or will they allow this situation to destroy them from the inside?

There’s no doubt about it, Green Valley is certainly a movie that dismisses many rules of formula. There’s no true simple three act structure to the movie and I know that in the minds of some audience members they may complain that ultimately nothing happens throughout the course of Green Valley, but I would instead like to argue that instead of being a movie about direct conflict resolution it is instead a feature dealing with the absence of that conflict and instead we watch how that eats away at our characters. Ultimately this group of friends and their reaction to their situation are the true sources of drama here. As each character heads off to this cabin in the woods in the hopes of developing as a unit of friends, each man becomes his own island and all characters alienate themselves from one another.

The style of the film seems to borrow from other filmmakers, but at the same time develops its own strange rhythm and develops its own voice throughout. Taking bits and pieces from the works of David Lynch (whose Eraserhead is actually featured within the movie) and Richard Linklater, director Barry puts a great deal of focus on both existential ponderings within the dialogue as well as incredibly stilted conversations. The dialogue for the most part seems to be improvised, but there’s definitely a stylistic choice to the rhythm of these performances. It’s the same effect that you will see in films such as David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. or Inland Empire, and this cast does well in showcasing this very otherworldly form of conversation. In the context of another film this strange style could be seen as totally pretentious, but the estrangement of these characters saves this from seeming over the top.

The pacing for the film is what will press the audience the most and ultimately test their limits. Similar to the works of some Asian filmmakers (such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien), the film features ponderous characters who wander through their situation and the project lacks a true narrative crux… but this wasn’t meant to be an easy feel good movie, this is difficult filmmaking. There are moments that are obviously padding throughout the movie and I would warn audiences to brace themselves for several very elongated scenes that seem to go nowhere, but I would also point out that these scenes seem to ultimately service the pacing of the film and establish the very relaxed tone that the movie hopes to subscribe to. It is in the final moments where the entire film was ultimately saved for me. In only a few moments there’s enough exposition that I felt myself instantly click with the film and come to understand all of the lethargy that had come before it. This culminating punchline to the whole movie, detailing the alienation of longtime friends and the shallow depths of false friendships, finally ropes everything back in and makes a cohesive whole of the entire ordeal. During the meandering center point you begin to wonder where the director is taking you and what exactly the point may be. It’s a bit disheartening at times because of this but ultimately the project is saved and everything starts to make sense.

An artistic film with flirtations toward the horror genre (the VHS tape which features "snuff" footage, of a sort, stands out as a harrowing moment from the film), Green Valley is something that will need to be seen by all fans of the bizarre. You can read more about the project via its official website at: http://greenvalleymovie.com