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TIFF Review: Valley of Shadows

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A six-year-old Norwegian boy living with his single mother believes a werewolf is living in the nearby woods killing sheep.

Asklak is awakened from his sleep by an older classmate who wants to show him something which happens to be a mutilated corpse of a sheep situated at the farm owned by the late family.  There is the suggestion that death of the animal was caused by a ravenous werewolf lurking in the imposing woods located on the fringes of the Norwegian town.  Another presence looming over the young protagonist is the whereabouts of his older and volatile brother whom the local police suspect of being responsible for the killings.  A quest to find his missing dog leads Asklak to venture into the woods where he makes an unexpected discovery.

Allegories and faerie tales dominate the themes and visual imagery of Valley of Shadows which was inspired in part by the story of Peter and the Wolf.  The sense of desolation is emphasized by the overcast skies and the huge woods that dwarfs the village.  The house in which Asklak lives is filled with shadows and corners, as well as a bedroom that he is not allowed to enter that, belonged to his brother which enables the latter to have a presence without actually being there.  The music posters on the walls play upon the notion that Heavy Metal contributes to making its listeners violent deviants of society which is visually effective in providing a backstory for the junkie sibling but rather clichéd.

Dialogue is sparse causing the actions and reactions of the characters to carry the narrative of the story.  The majority of the perspective is taken from the point of view of Asklak so as he learns things so does the audience.  Full marks go to the performance of Adam Ekeli who is in almost every scene and is able to make one fear for his well-being.  First-time feature film director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen is able to make the woods have an eerie presence much in the way Robert Eggers was able to achieve with The Witch.  Despite the supernatural suggestions, a grounded approach is taken though the faerie tale attributes are heavy-handed at times, and the setups do not necessarily payoff.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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