★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Matthew Ninaber.
It’s always disappointing when someone takes one of your favorite horror sub-genres and brutally bastardizes it. The “we’re trapped in a secret military base and there’s only one way out” storyline takes some care and feeding. The situation is made even worse when it’s given the ham-fisted SyFy treatment. Little attention, little point, and little effort.
A film that is incomprehensibly bad just shouldn’t exist in this day and age. More frustrating is the fact that the contemporary pillar of horror, Shudder, sponsored, promoted, and created this Shudder original. But they did!
In 2021, amidst some incredible films, Shudder released Death Valley. Funny enough, while many die, this is not in a valley, nor is it set in THE Death Valley. Death Valley follows a series of well-trod, overused, and painfully boring 1980s action movie tropes steeped in machismo with a rotten side of American exceptionalism.
The film, directed by THE PSYCHO GOREMAN (Matthew Ninaber), concerns a series of rough and tumble true-blue American mercenaries as they set out to unearth the truth behind a vaguely eastern European bunker. The bunker allegedly contains zombie-monster-aliens that have been created by a foreign enemy hostile to American interests.
Make no mistake, this zombie-monster-alien story is not without merit, but you’ve previously seen so many of the pieces and parts of this tale that it takes on a very dull sheen. There’s a homage to Aliens, a little of The Thing, a pinch of Overlord, and depending on your predilections, some Deep Star Six or Leviathan.
The team of mercenaries is out for “one last job.” They’ve got to rescue the remaining scientist who may/may not be on their side. The mercenaries have known each other forever and they reek of Maverick/Ice Top Gun smells.
All the hyper-cliched tropes are oafishly rolled in to a messy little non-sensical SyFy-esque production. Problem is…it’s not done tongue in cheek. There’s no irony to the story, production, or the acting. It’s almost as if someone was given the assignment to do a shot for shot re-creation of Tango and Cash, Cobra, Iron Eagle, and…well, you get the point.
Death Valley does contain some fair-to-midland practical effects and a really interesting set, and some beautiful locations, but any possible benefits are quickly undone by clumsy acting, bad dialogue, and an un-ironic ultramasculine pastiche.
Does the team of mercenaries make it to their drop point? Does one of the team’s bros get killed in a last gasp of martyrdom? Does the team do battle with a ridiculous eastern European behemoth? Sadly the answer to all these things is a (spoiler alert) very shallow “yes.”
There are plenty of films that are so bad they’re engagingly good. The horror genre is forgivingly riddled with piles and piles of gar-BAGE. Trust us. We know. We’ve been rolling around in said refuse for a minute or two. That, however, does not excuse this lazy bit of film making. There’s definitely a story kicking around within Death Valley and, as previously mentioned, there’s some great practical effects, but when left to shoddy production, the film comes off as incomplete and flat.
Death Valley is likely PG-13 and currently streaming on Shudder.