Death Valley (2008)

Death Valley DVD

Starring: Eric Christian Olson, Rider Strong, Jennifer Cortese, Bumper Robinson, Wayne Young

Written & Directed By: David Kebo, Rudi Liden

Grade: B

Death Valley is a  horror film taking place in the desert, making it feel a lot like The Hills Have Eyes. Rather than using deformed vicious humans it uses a territorial gang as the
villains. The film doesn’t do anything completely new, but as it
goes along it has a way of surprising you. It becomes more than just
partying turned in to a death threat. It questions people’s morals,
strength, and just how powerless and lifeless a desert can make a
few kids from the city feel.

Josh (Olson) and his friends, Daniel (Strong), Anthony (Robinson),
and Brick (Young) decide to get out of the city and take a trip to
a rave in the desert for Josh’s birthday. They want to get out and
have a good time together in a different and refreshing atmosphere.
When they get to the rave they party, get intoxicated and seemingly
go out of their minds. In just minutes Josh nearly kills Brick and then
reverts to suicide. He acts off of a combination of the drugs
and a slight depression of feeling that he is in a dead end job,
feeling such a lack of importance.

In the morning, they get over their trip only to realize that much
worse trouble will follow. The car battery that they were sold is
stolen from their car. They suspect that the people they bought it
from stole it so they could sell it back to them again. They scrounge their money together and a few of them walk to the nearest mechanic to buy a new battery.

Meanwhile, that leaves Anthony and a girl he met at the rave,
Amber (Cortese) together. They hooked up the night before and now
they are having a very awkward morning after. She just found out
that he has a fiancé and she is the other girl in the situation.
When a few guys approach them, Anthony demands that they give them their battery back. Of course, they deny and take this chance to launch an attack on them. They beat up and threaten to kill Anthony, meanwhile harassing Amber. When the guys come back, they see Anthony held at gun point and Amber is being raped. Upon this site,  Josh is overtaken by rage and lets it get the best of him as he shoots the rapist on impulse. Daniel tries to save him knowing that self defense doesn’t mean anything anymore and they will all go to jail for what Josh did just for being there. Stranded in the middle
of nowhere, it becomes obvious that this is a lost cause. It just
so happens that this man had a gang of vicious friends, the
scorpion gang, who are capable of much worse than what was done to Anthony and Amber earlier. As far as the gang is concerned, a war
has been waged and it is one they intend to win. They try to make a
bargain by saying there is only one they truly want to kill, but
soon enough it is clear that they won’t stop until every one of them
is dead.

The cast widely enhances the film and compliments it in nearly
every way. Rider Strong has been doing a lot of these disaster type
of horror films with Cabin Fever, Tooth and Nail, Borderland, and
now this. Many of these, but particularly Borderland show this
partying gone wrong in a situation where survival is grim, but still
strived for. Since a few of his most recent films weren’t the
greatest, my hopes were lowered for Death Valley slightly. However,
I was pleasantly surprised with the film. Strong captured his character well and added a voice of reason, even if there was no one to listen to it. I hope Rider Strong continues with horror, but still tries to find something different and unique after this.

Eric Christian Olson did very well as the lead too. Especially in his moments of crisis, he hits just the right key and shows what guilt and fear can do. I really enjoyed Jennifer Cortese. She showed a strength
regardless of her weakening state. Her best moment is when she
is talking to Brick, who without medical attention will die. She
completely exposes herself and we realize that she is just a kid.
The first risk she has taken turns in to what will most likely be
the very death of her before she has even really been given a chance
to live. Bumper Robinson and Wayne Young both did very well as the
friends who are trying to find a way out and can only sit there in misery and pain and watch it all fall apart.

There is some blood in the film, but it is kept to a low level. Adding more might have made it a bit more intense, but overall I was happy that they didn’t rely on the gore to make the film as many horror film fall in this trap . Death Valley does a lot of things well. It really makes the desert a character in itself. Isolation is surrounding them. Civilization seems so far off and almost impossible to reach. Even when they attempt to get help, you have to question weather there is anyone around that doesn’t have a connection with the scorpion gang. In this place that is very much foreign to them, they are forced to assume that no one can be trusted. If they make the mistake of doing so, it may be the last thing that they do.

For awhile, the kids are hiding in a cave, making it their safety
net. They know they can only stay there for so long. If they want
any hope of survival, they will have to leave the safe zone and take
their chances against those that have made it their mission to
kill. In the gang itself there is quite a bit of manipulation by
the leader. He forces the wounded member’s younger brother to stick with them to kill like savages. He tries to moralize it, but in the
end morals have nothing to do with it. Not only does he use guilt,
and the memory against him, making him in to a murder himself, but
he threatens everyone with the promise to burn their houses down
and kill the rest of their families. With someone who just lost a
brother, family is all he can think of and becomes something he has no respect for. Death Valley is a pretty simple story but is carried by the terrific acting and uses elements of power, fear, survival,
and a loss of innocence resulting in a very enjoyable film while
doing so. As the tagline says Death Valley is “One Hell of A Trip”.

Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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