★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed By Heidi Hartwig
Who knew that there was a sub-genre of horror known as Coachella Horror? Well there’s not, but you heard it here first. Perfect millennials mixed with impossibly mundane feuding, throw in a couple very stylish floppy hats, a little paranormal fright (but not too much), and a gathering of genetically perfect young ladies and — POW — it’s Coachella Horror!
Wonder Valley, originally released in 2017, but unceremoniously dumped on to Amazon in 2020, is a well shot film that follows a group of four friends out to the desert for a weekend of relaxation. The premise, simple as it is, slowly unfolds the tension between three of the friends who’ve known each other for some time, and a newer and rather odd interloper Karian (Jade Fusco). Each of the women is the perfect embodiment of a perfect characterization. There’s the uncertain and unconfident Cloudy (Lucy Engleman) who plays the emotional epicenter of the quartet. There’s the failed actress and positively contemptuous Sasha (Malia Scharf) who cajoles the group in to a weekend of psychedelics and foments antagonism among the group ever chance she gets. Finally, there’s the sexually aggressive Jessica (Kella Birch) who clumsily wanders her way through the film.
The perfectly coiffed ladies eventually head out to the desert for some rest and relaxation to take them away from their normal schedule of rest, relaxation, and pampering. Upon arrival at their architecturally accomplished abode, Karian discloses that this was her aunt’s house and her shaman-like aunt just might have killed herself INSIDE THE HOUSE! The girls, not particularly weirded out by this fact decide that the best way to kill time is to take a mighty dose of the hyper-psychedelic datura flower — AKA moonflowers. In a well-concocted series of freaky vignettes, all the girl’s character types and foibles start to emerge. Time gets bent, feelings get hurt, and peculiarities start to emerge.
The following day the girls go on a hike to try and clear their heads from the endless night of self-awakening. Karian becomes separated from the group and discover another girl who’s been left to die in the desert. After making her way back to the house, her decidedly disinterested friends decide to help Karian find the body of the missing girl. As the girls continue with their pharmaceutical vision quest to find the dead girl the weekend affair fully glides off the rails.
Is Karian the ghost of her wiccan aunt? Is the whole freaky weekend fete a drugged out mishmash of repressed feelings? Is this gaggle of disinterested millennials really as self-entitled and conceited as they seem? Sadly, director Heidi Hartwig never really answers any of these questions and leaves the audience to assume that this self-centered quartet is really just that. Wonder Valley has some wonderful staging and camera work, but it is lacking in many obvious ways. The film’s score is cliched and constant. The soundtrack leaves no room to breathe and punctuates every single scene with some sort of Chris Isaak-like-reverb-filled-desert sound. Most importantly, Hartwig never really establishes a single protagonist and the viewer is left in the unfortunate situation to figure this out on their own. Disdain for contemptuous characters, mixed with an uncertain focal point eventually unwinds as deep and uncaring apathy for the film itself. The millennial generation has historically received a lot of grief for these specific tropes and Wonder Valley ain’t helping reverse that perspective.
Wonder Valley is borderline Rated R and is currently streaming on Amazon.