“In a Valley of Violence,” the new independent film written, directed, edit and produced by Ti West, continues the trend of films like “The Revenant” (2015) and “Django Unchained” (2012), which have slightly deviated in style and theme from classic westerns. West, a 36-year-old Delaware native who made a name for himself with horror films like “The Sacrament” (2013), finds the balance between action-packed violence with humor and fun, while maintaining many of the genre's core elements.
“I was exhausted by the grim subject matter with ‘The Sacrament,’” West explained in a phone interview on Tuesday with International Business Times as to why he chose to do a western.
“I wanted to make something with cinematic tradition,” he said about the film’s category. “It’s still violent, so it’s not so far removed from what I’ve done. That was the initial genesis of the project. Also, I just love westerns.”
Unlike his previous films, “In A Valley of Violence” tells its story with a star-studded cast. West brought on the likes of Ethan Hawke, John Travolta and “American Horror Story’s” Taissa Farmiga to work on his project.
“It was great,” the writer/director said about working with established actors. “I wrote it with Ethan Hawke in mind.”
When Travolta caught wind of the project, he immediately wanted to be involved. “He really got the movie and was so enthusiastic,” West said, adding it was only a matter of months before the film started rolling.
“They are down to earth, gracious, effortless celebrities,” he said about working with Hawke and Travolta. “There’s no ‘movie star pretens.’ Everyone was into making a western. We all had the same mindset and everything kind of congealed.”
“In A Valley of Violence” centers around Paul (Hawke), a stranger who wanders into a town of misfits. He meets Gilly Martin (James Ransone) and soon became entangled in a deadly battle of revenge. Gilly's father, The Marshall (John Travolta), tries to protect his volatile son from Paul, who turns out to be a trained killer.
“I think people in this movie are not being honest with who they are,” West said of his characters. “They are all trying to be who they wish they were and not who they are. The plot forces them to realize the ideas they have of themselves aren’t accurate. They have to confront it.”
One of the differences between “In A Valley of Violence” and classic westerns is it tells the story from the villain's perspective. “Violence isn’t black and white,” West explained. “The movie is about violence and how it affects people.”
West chose senseless killings as a theme because of what he perceives as growing public desensitization. “Millions of people dying and we don’t think about it,” he says about the way some action movies are made. “But in a western, when the characters are faced with the situations they act like real people. There’s a weird relationship with on-screen violence and real-life violence. We fantasize one and are uncomfortable with the other.”
West explores this dichotomy in considerable detail. “It’s always good to have subtext or a message with a movie. Hopefully, you can communicate what you’re trying to say [through the movie] and then outward.”
West takes on numerous production roles in “In a Valley of Violence,” something he’s done with his past movies and what he plans to do in future films. This is the sixth feature-length film he's directed.
“It’s exhausting, but I like cinema and I love all the aspects of filmmaking,” he said. “I’m trying to remind people cinema is not just content. It’s in the camera, the directing, the music, the credits ... This movie is a one that celebrates cinema.”
“In a Valley of Violence” opens in theaters Friday, Oct. 21.
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