The Dark Valley is a 2014 Western set in the unforgiving terrain of the Alps, specifically in Austria. Unlike other westerns that are dripping with action and tall men with sandpaper for vocal chords, this one is vastly different. So what makes this film so special?
The Dark Valley features Sam Riley as Greider, a photographer coming from North America to the Alps to “take pictures”. However as the movie progresses it becomes clear that he definitely has ulterior motives, using the photography shtick as a disguise for his true intentions. After two men in this small village end up dead, its clear Greider is out for blood.
However, as cookie-cutter as a summary of a film that may be, the film’s satisfying dark twist and clever motifs and visual themes that make for compelling characters and storytelling.
Unfortunately, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning spoilers, so if you’re interested in seeing this film stop reading and come back after you’ve watched it.
In this small village, its so separated from the rest of civilization that anyone who stops into this town is usually incredibly famished and exhausted. The town’s leader “Old Brenner” will feed everyone who comes in but with a catch. Any woman that is presented to Old Brenner will have to give their body’s up to him for impregnation. These women are more than welcome to leave but will have to find a way to survive Austria’s harsh unforgiving wilderness. In Greider’s case, his mother was one of the women Old Brenner violated. When her husband tried to rescue her he was crucified. Greider’s mother did manage to escape but was never seen again.
In an epic tale of revenge Greider comes to this village where it all started and begins slaughtering all of Brenner’s sons that get in his way. We later find out that these men were actually Greider’s brothers. What really sells this twist though, is all of the buildup that lead up to that information.
Red vs Blue
When it comes to lighting, the film many of times uses colors of red and blue. When it comes to color you can use it to convey copious amounts of information. In this film, red lamps, fire, and candles are used, and the only time we see blue is through light from outside coming indoors.
The color red represents Greider’s blood and the atrocities that both him and his family are committing. Yes, Greider may be saving people in the process, but at first that isn’t even on his mind. Red is often showing combating for dominance with the color blue, illuminating different parts of the room.
Often there are scenes where half of Greider’s face is illuminated by red, and the other by blue. In the film he has a metronome that he uses to help him take pictures, and uses it as background noise to fall asleep. The metronome is a tool that serves as Greider’s american roots and his naive ideals that life will follow a straight line and be on the side of the “hero”
Greider comes from a country that created the Western genre. There’s even a scene where one of the main characters, Luzi, is asking him questions about his home with wonder and excitement in her voice. Take John Wayne for example. Of course not every one of his films is the same, but John Wayne himself is a symbol of what the genre represents to the public eye. The hero is an assertive, confident hunk always picks himself up when he gets back down.
In this scene, Luzi and Greider are having dinner together and the entire room is illuminated with candles. Luzi is filled with wonder hoping that Greider is the John Wayne in this story and that his victory will be the end of this story and the end of their continuous suffering. In a later scene Greider and Luzi are at a General Store when one of the Brenner Sons, Otto, offers him a Shnapps. Greider refuses and Otto takes the entire bottle and starts drowning him with it. When Luzi comes to the rescue Greider is curled up on the floor while ample lamps all around him cradle him with red light.
Another representation of the color red comes from the coming winter. Because of the severity of the weather in the Alps, Greider would be stuck there until the winter passes. Luzi even tries to get Greider to leave to save him from himself by saying “This is no place for you. You should leave when the snow falls, it will be too late”. After the snow starts to fall, we see a scene of Greider in his room in front of a metronome with a candle illuminating the front of his body and blue light from his window illuminating his back. As the metronome plays, it’s sound slowly transforms into a heartbeat, showing Greider’s transformation from a naive “hero” into the exact thing he sworn to destroy.
Of course, the heartbeat serves as a representation of the cycle of impregnation from Old Brenner, and another example of Brenner’s blood fighting for control inside Greider’s body.
The color red in this movie embodies Greider’s struggle through the film, showing that through a representation of red combating for control with blue. Red is the imperfections of mankind, and blue is the innocence and beauty of life and child birth, which I’ll discuss now.
Blue is a color that is only represented through the outside world. In other words, it is a completely natural form of illumination.
Take Castaway as an example. When Chuck Noland woke up after passing out in his cave, the natural light of the sun opened his eyes. A similar case can be applied to this film. In many cases, scenes are illuminated almost entirely with red with blue in the background.
After Greider finishes off the rest of the Brenner sons, he returns to the village to kill Old Brenner and finish his quest. The door into Old Brenner’s room is painted blue, and both him and Greider’s faces are both half illuminated with red light and blue light. It is at this point that the audience finds out about the Brenner family being Greider’s brothers.
Now of course, Greider is conflicted. He has to choose between killing his only connection he has to his mother, or letting the cycle of violence and rape continue.
In that sense, perhaps the color blue represents the innocence of child birth and the beauty of raising a child to become a wonderful, active piece in the world and how Old Brenner bastardized that gift for personal pleasure.
In the film, Luzi and another main character Lukas, are to be married. The problem though, is that after they are to be married Old Brenner’s dark tradition of having his way with women after they’re married.
This color represents what God intended for the Earth and his expectations for mankind. Luzi and Lukas, a reflection of Adam and Eve, are caught up in the crossfire. People who are grateful for God’s gift and use their existence to appreciate said gift and create more life. That gift is exactly what Old Brenner is bastardizing: life itself. From my perspective at least, it seems God did not expect people to demoralize and take advantage of what was handed to them. Free will is perhaps the greatest gift of all because it gives us the ability to love, but it also gives us the ability to destroy and harm others.
As a final note there’s one last scene I’d like to talk about, and it might just be one of my favorite scenes of any movie period. When the wedding takes place, blue light from outside is shining through a window onto a statue of Jesus Christ. The priest, Breiser, whom we later find out is involved with the atrocities of the Brenner family, says this:
…Let us remember the good man Joseph. What do you think he felt when his wife was with child though he had never lain with her? He must have been full of rage…and felt helpless. If he had chased Mary away, everyone would have understood. But he was pious…and didn’t want to bring shame on her. And so he acquiesced, knowing that his son came from a higher being. Joseph understood that the Lord had not imposed a sacrifice upon him, but had sent him a gift from heaven. And what did the Holy Mary say about this? “Even if he uses me and my womb…I shall not protest, for he is one that knows better than I what is good and what is right”Erwin Steinhauer as Breiser – The Dark Valley (2014)
Using this as evidence for my point earlier, Breiser and the Brenner family of this small village are taking advantage of God’s gift and using it to instill fear onto the community and control it by creating a terrible justification of their actions. No matter what, innocent people will suffer because of the gift of free will and will get caught in the crossfire from people who go against God’s prospects.
In conclusion, this movie in my eyes is my favorite western and one of my favorite films of all time. The christian Bible contains so much content, its always awesome to see people using the book to experiment with different themes and philosophical commentary in film.
That being said, I love the film’s message of mankind misinterpreting God’s expectations when he gave us the gift of free will. Even Greider is imperfect and goes against God’s expectations, killing several people in the name of vengeance and stoops down to Old Brenner’s level.
The harsh truth is no one is ever going to meet God’s expectations, because we are all imperfect and are bound to do terrible things in our lifetimes, and make grave and illogical mistakes. In my humble opinion, I believe that as horrible as these atrocities are, free will is not a mistake. Because we can act out of our own volition we can experience making a mistake and the satisfaction of learning from your shortcomings. There are some people in the world who have done absolutely terrible, unthinkable things but have rehabilitated themselves and use the gift of free will to be a productive and healthy member of society.