Visit Death Valley (2021) For Middling Monster Mayhem
Title: Death Valley
First Non-Festival Release: November 18, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Matthew Ninaber
Writer: Matthew Ninaber
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Starring: Jeremy Ninaber, Ethan Mitchell, Kristen Kaster
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Mercenaries for hire Beckett (Jeremy Ninaber) and Marshall (Ethan Mitchell) are sent to retrieve Chloe (Kristen Kaster) from an undergrad research facility in “Bosvania.” The bunker is currently being guarded by a local militia hellbent on destroying everyone underground. The team must swoop in undetected to retrieve Chloe and the invaluable research she possesses. Once there, the team is nearly wiped out by the locals and Beckett and Marshall push on alone. Unlucky for them, however, they will understand soon that what awaits underground is much worse than the human hell above it.
Brainless creature feature, Death Valley doesn’t have as much meat as one might hope to enjoy.
The origin of the monsters and the explanation for the lockdown doesn’t work here. It feels both contrived and convoluted. Most of the involvement of these locals doesn’t make sense. They are paid to guard the facility, but they don’t know all the entrances and exits? They initially leave during the 24-hour lockdown and then don’t bring back as much fire power as they can? We are really supposed to believe that they wouldn’t have the knowledge or capabilities to get more appropriate weapons? These questions and more help poke many holes in the already thin plot of this creature feature.
It’s also confusing why the locals didn’t bomb the facility considering they clearly had the capabilities. Furthermore, the rationale for how and why these opposing units are called in to support Chloe. It makes very little sense, especially for an organization that would not behave like that. Sure, Death Valley isn’t setting out to be an Oscar winner, but a more solid explanation would be welcome.
There is nothing here but one-dimensional characters with the simplest motivations. It’s a creature feature, it doesn’t have to have groundbreaking character development to be solid. What is necessary, however, is having some level of depth to characters that goes beyond a few descriptors. The acting is shaky throughout the film too. The cast is fine when it comes to the more action-packed portions but struggle with emotional delivery, particularly Kaster and Ninaber.
An unexpected non-story related issue throughout the film is found in its sound design. Truthfully, it is hard to explain how or why, but the sounds didn’t sound like anything is set at the appropriate volume. It happens mostly with guns firing but it cannot be solely attributed to that. While this may seem minor, it does take the viewer out of the experience and make it hard to connect with the story.
It's not all bad here. The creature effects are good even though the concept and art design are uninspired. Less is more, and Death Valley plays its cards way too soon which makes for a rather suspenseless film. It’s forgivable in a sense that this film is never meant to be more than a fun B-movie. There’s enough carnage to keep those most interested in creature showdowns attentive and the action itself gets close to thrilling every once and awhile. You’d be hard pressed to find a more generic creature feature but if that is what you are looking for, Death Valley has got you covered.
This creature features sinks its teeth into a concept too grandiose for its own capabilities. Rarely, if ever, do I spend my time trying to pick apart the plots of monster movies like Death Valley. There are just too many things that don’t add up and make this film unsatisfying. Silly in a not so good way, Death Valley drags, forcing viewers to feel as trapped in the experience as its characters. Competent effects and a few choice sequences eek out enough enjoyment to be of interest to the avid monster hunter cinephile. Wasted potential, Death Valley is neither the worst creature feature nor the best. It is decidedly average and there are worse things production teams can do.
Overall Score? 5/10