‘Death Valley’ Review: Minor Thrills in Typical Monster Movie
By Daniel Rester
Matthew Ninaber brought joy to horror fans earlier this year as the darkly funny title character in Psycho Goreman. Now he’s in monster makeup again as the central threat in Death Valley, a film he is also the writer and director for. Though Ninaber shows some love for practical effects and B-movie mechanics, Death Valley is unfortunately generic and forgettable for the most part.
The plot is simple as two mercenary buddies (of course one says it’s “one last job” to his wife) investigate a distress call. Upon arriving at a hidden bunker and rescuing a scientist, the mercenaries realize they are up against a deadly creature. Making matters worse, there are other armed men moving in on the location.
Jeremy Ninaber and Ethan Mitchell try to generate some chemistry as the mercenaries James and Marshall. Mitchell comes across as likable at times, but both leads and the supporting actors struggle with the consistently clunky dialogue. Their flow is a bit better in the second half, but the first half is pretty rough as everything is set up and James and Marshall take on some baddies in the woods. I was almost thankful when the music would occasionally drown out the dialogue exchanges.
Doom and Resident Evil consistently come to mind while watching Death Valley. Director Ninaber uses red lighting and flashing lights, scientist victims doing weird experiments, etc. Even the central monster looks like a cousin of the Resident Evil “lickers.” It’s one of the better things about the film as its design looks mostly practical and isn’t just a CGI blur. I chuckled a couple of times thinking about if Ninaber directed any scenes while wearing the makeup.
The filmmaking here looks alternately serviceable and cheap. Some of the camerawork is jittery and lazy, while other times there are some impressive wide shots. The film’s best scene involves creatively using a morgue room. There is also a third act character twist that is silly but entertaining. So Ninaber injects some workable edges in here, but they’re surrounded by multiple scenes that are familiar and unpolished.
Undemanding audiences might find some moments to enjoy while watching Death Valley. The whole thing is pretty dang cliched though while the dialogue and acting often stumble. While I dug what Ninaber did in Psycho Goreman earlier this year, unfortunately I feel that Death Valley is a miss from him.
My Grade: 4.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: C-)
Running Time: 1h 31min