The Movie Waffler Tribeca 2022 Review - PEACE IN THE VALLEY | The Movie Waffler

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Tribeca 2022 Review - PEACE IN THE VALLEY

Peace in the Valley review
A young mother struggles to cope with the death of her husband in a shooting incident.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tyler Riggs

Starring: Brit Shaw, Michael Abbott Jr., Dendrie Taylor, William Samiri

Peace in the Valley poster

There's a curious familiarity to writer/director Tyler Riggs' sophomore feature Peace in the Valley. Its two leads – Brit Shaw and Michael Abbott Jr. – are practically doubles of Riley Keough and Walton Goggins. Thematically it feels akin to a Kenneth Lonergan drama. Visually it often resembles Altman and Rudolph, with lots of subtle zooms picking out characters lost in crowds. But mostly it feels familiar because we feel like we know the people who populate its story. What its plot lacks in originality, Peace in the Valley makes up for with characters so well drawn they feel like friends and neighbours, and we care for even those who don’t care too much for themselves.

Peace in the Valley review

A striking opening scene sees the happy family of Ashley (Shaw), John (Abbott Jr.) and their 10-year-old son Jessie (William Samiri) visit one of those massive convenience stores that sit on the edge of every American town. John has just won a work promotion and plans to celebrate by purchasing a chainsaw. Ashley hopes he'll put it to use by cutting down the overgrown tree that's taken over their garden. When gunshots ring out, John ushers Ashley to safety before rescuing his son. We then cut to John's funeral and learn he died a hero, saving the lives of his fellow shoppers. The tree remains uncut.

Peace in the Valley review

The arrival of John's deadbeat identical twin brother Billy (Abbott Jr. in a dual role that never comes off as tacky) suggests we're in for a classic story of redemption. Billy bonds with Jessie and it seems he may help Ashley heal, but his presence proves increasingly disruptive. He takes the boy hunting and tells stories of the BB gun he cherished as a child. Ashley never says so much, but we can tell she's uncomfortable at the role guns play in Billy's life, and now her son's. There are no lectures on gun control from Riggs however. His film is set in a part of the world where guns are ingrained in culture, and people just don’t have those conversations. A dinner table scene in which Jessie and his grandmother (Dendrie Taylor) listen intently as Billy describes his childhood gun while Ashley squirms in her seat reminded me of Bobbie Gentry's great country song 'Ode to Billy Joe', which tells of the indifference Americans so often display to tragedy, even when it's on their own doorstep.

Peace in the Valley review

While Billy plays a large role in the narrative, Peace in the Valley is ultimately Ashley's story. We watch as she copes with her loss in a very human, very messy way. She seeks drunken sex with both strangers in bars and even Billy, leading to an uncomfortable but all too real sexual encounter that will have later ramifications. There's a brutal but relatable honesty to how Ashley speaks about life without her husband, citing her inability to open pickle jars as one of the things she struggles with in his absence. Shaw is magnificent in the role, playing Ashley as someone who wants to keep her head down and grieve in solitude, but can't because she has a boy to raise and a support network of people trying their best to help her heal. She may have lost her husband in dramatic circumstances, but the fact that Riggs plays this drama in a manner that never explicitly broaches the subject of America's mass shooting culture is a damning indictment of how normal and accepted such tragedies have become for that nation's citizens.

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