Release Date: October 20, 2017 (Norway)
Screened: September 10, 2017 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Runtime: 91 minutes
Rating: No Rating Yet
Studio: Film Farms; Them Girls Film; Anna Kron Film
Director: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen
Cast: Adam Ekeli; Kathrine Fagerland
While there is stuff to admire in Valley of Shadows, this Norwegian import really wasn’t my cup of tea. This is one of those movies that is long on atmosphere, but short on action or dialogue. A very European movie in style and nature, Valley of Shadows will only appeal to filmgoers who are into minimalist exercises in style.
Little loner Aslak (Adam Ekeli) lives in the Norwegian countryside with his mother, Astrid (Kathrine Fagerland) and brother, who hasn’t been seen for days. Aslak’s friend, an older boy whom his mother is skeptical about Aslak hanging around with, relays to Aslak a tall tale about a werewolf that supposedly trolls the nearby dark forest. Of course, little inquisitive boys will be little inquisitive boys and Aslak goes exploring. Does this sound like the makings of a Grimm Fairy Tale, or what??
And it should sound like the makings of a Grimm Fairy Tale. Valley of Shadows more than lives up to its title, with heavy fog and mist enveloping almost every shot. Director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen favors lots of long, quiet takes with little or no speaking, lending his film a certain ethereal quality that suits the fairy tale aesthetic I feel like he was after. I read this film as a kind of allegory about a little boy on the cusp of manhood and, specifically, how this particular boy navigates this natural transition. Inherent in such a change in one’s life comes a certain amount of fear and apprehension and Aslak’s journey is all about traversing this emotional chasm. Little Adam Ekeli does a nice job of portraying a child on the verge of losing his innocence and the exploratory nature that accompanies this passage of life. Ekeli’s wide, crystal clear blue eyes betray the wonder and excitement, as well as the anxiety, of a boy as he becomes a man. I mean, aren’t all fairy tales really just stories that address life’s changes, difficulties, and questions in a manner a child can comprehend? In this respect, the film works.
It’s just that it’s slowwwwwwwww. With very little movement or dialogue, it may be tough for audiences accustomed to more action (not necessarily action movies, per se, but action on the screen) to remain engaged. This was the case with me. The film is certainly beautifully shot (courtesy of cinematographer Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen) and well acted, but there’s just not much going on. Valley of Shadows will appeal to a very specific type of moviegoer. I am not that type of moviegoer.