VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH
Firstly, I just want to say thank you to writer/director John Portanova, for allowing me access to an online screener of his Independent, Horror/Thriller film “Valley Of The Sasquatch”. A quick shout out goes to Bill Oberst Jr for helping me contact John about the film, thanks my friend. Valley Of The Sasquatch, is about a fractured family consisting of a father and his son. Roger Crew (played by Jason Vail), and his son Michael (Miles-Joris Peyrafitte), have recently suffered a tragic loss, and are forced to relocate to a family cabin in the wilderness. With tensions high, a very distant relationship is further complicated by the arrival of two of Roger’s old friends, Sergio and Will (played respectively by David Saucedo and D’Angelo Midili). The group of four catch up on old times and decide to go hunting. Shortly into the hike, they encounter a group of Sasquatch who will do anything to protect their land. The film also stars Bill Oberst Jr.
I only came across Valley Of The Sasquatch after having seen Jason Vail in a film I reviewed called “Dorchester’s Revenge”. I’m also a huge fan of Bill’s, and have followed most of his work to date, but this was one I didn’t know about. This is John Portanova’s debut full length feature. Given this is a low-budget indie film, the production value is wonderful. The tales of “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” have been covered in the past on numerous occasions, in films including “Harry and The Hendersons”, an oldie but a Goldie (haha), and now to the much more recent “Bigfoot”, “Yeti” or “Exists”. I’ve seen all of them and to be perfectly honest, other than John Lithgow’s family friendly Harry, they were all pretty disappointing. I can’t think of a time I have actually seen a good film that covers this sort of thing. Valley Of The Sasquatch has a pretty solid script, it isn’t an original film by any means but the story is more than up to scratch. The film opens with some lovely establishing shots of the heavily wooded area it’s set in, along with the small town, located close to the new family cabin.
The wonderful location makes for some impressive cinematography. The shot choices are sensible and the camera work is silky smooth. I can’t stress enough, the importance of the quality of camera work, especially in a film with such a rich environment. Nearly every exterior shot looks perfect, it’s clear John has spent a lot of time on the framing and getting those fundamentals right. Artistically, the color grading is very natural and I’d be surprised if anything much was done with editing the color saturation. Everything in the daylight scenes looks bright and really jumps out at you. The audio was another of the standout technical aspects, It was all very clear. I liked the decision to use a much more drama orientated score. It was very adventure like, when typically the music would consist of a bunch of instrumental suspenseful bits. The lighting and structure of the campfire scene was well thought out too. I only want to touch on the lighting because I will need to talk a little more about that later.
The facet often hinging on whether a film like this works or not, is the quality of the action and effects, in relation to the look and feel of the Sasquatch. In this case, a practical hairy suit and an actor works in the films favor. Especially if you choose to imply scenarios more than actually showing the creature. It’s not an action or effects heavy film, but the few effects we do get towards the end were done practically and looked good. Valley Of The Sasquatch is an all male cast. Bill’s awesome, and his role of Bauman is a fun one. It’s not a typical role for him, which I thought was cool. Don’t be to disappointed after the opening sequence, because things come full circle by the end, so stick with it. Jason has a reasonable amount of acting experience in the independent circuit. I thought he was solid in this role, but some of the writing left a lot to be desired. Miles and D’Angelo had there moments as well, but didn’t really have to stretch out of their comfort zones much. I thought the weakest performance came from David Saucedo. To be fair though, I hated his character. I know that was probably John’s intention for the viewer, but Sergio’s reactions and dialogue felt really hollow and flimsy.
From a technical point of view, there was plenty to like about Valley Of The Sasquatch. The only attributes that needed some attention, were the volume level in relation to sound effects, and the choice to shoot everything primarily in the dark. When the Sasquatch cries/calls out, the volume was piercing and it didn’t need to be that loud. The camera work was all perfect, with the exception of one frenzied scene involving a character running away, which was really out of left field. Fortunately it only lasted for less than thirty seconds. I didn’t like Roger right from the start. He just didn’t project anything, It seemed like Jason had next to know interest being there, and I’m not sure if that’s a problem that lies in the writing and transferred to his character, or maybe he was told to play it that way. I know the family dynamic was supposed to be broken after what they had gone through, but either way, I didn’t buy the father son relationship between Roger and Michael. For one, the age gap seemed barely wide enough, and it’s almost like Roger had to keep calling his son Michael during every passage of dialogue, for no apparent reason other than to remind the audience what their relationship was.
On a similar note, I couldn’t get behind Sergio or the acting from Saucedo. I’m not sure which one it was, maybe both. His interactions with Roger were really immature, his attitude towards Michael was childish and his actions were hostile. Once again, it was all for no obvious reason other than just to signify that he was the dick in the group. At one point he mentions having seen what he thought was a Bigfoot. He goes on to explain to the group how big it was and what it looked like. Here’s the thing though, all the audience got to see was some shrubbery swaying around in the wind and a couple of grunting noises. How did he even know what it looked like, if we didn’t see it?? If it was bigger than he was surely everyone would have seen it? Unless we are supposed to believe he saw it, and the intention was that we didn’t?, I don’t know. No matter how you look at it, that was a poor plot point and some lazy writing. VOFS starts off reasonably fast paced, but then in the middle it becomes tedious, probably due to the lack of action. It misses the mark when it comes to suspense, and unfortunately it doesn’t deliver anywhere near the amount of action you would think something of this nature would.
It’s almost 60 minutes before any real action starts to go down, the whole thing is only 90. Most of the character arcs are so simplistic that you can’t fall back on that development or dialogue, in the hope of keeping audiences engaged. This needed plenty more action and it needed to get to that action much quicker. Having been shot on a modest budget, I can almost deal with the lack of action because the other things are all done so well, well almost. Regrettably, the lighting or lack of it, is the part I really got hung up on. It stuck out like a sore thumb, and probably only because everything else had such an attention to detail. I think the reason why big chunks of the film, especially the last half, were in the dark was to hide the Sasquatch as much as possible. Sometimes that approach works and helps maintain or build suspense, but in this case it didn’t. Anytime something interesting was going down, I could only hear it and not actually get to experience it. It was rather disappointing and I ended up with a similar feeling to the one I had when I watched “Frankenstein’s Army”, the opportunity to do something great went begging.
Valley Of The Sasquatch is to well put together to justify calling it a poor film. For starters it’s Portanova’s first full length film, and in that sense the only way for him is up. The location, shot choices, overall camera work and audio were all very well conceived. Knowledge of the technical aspects is half the battle, so well done. The back story for the core group is sufficient enough, and once we get to some action what you can see of it was damn cool. Unfortunately, the film suffers from some poorly written dialogue and unconvincing reactions or interactions between characters. It loses momentum half way through, and only partially gets it back with a bit of late action. Sadly most of that action and effects work can’t be fully appreciated, due to the poor lighting in almost every scene that’s set at night. I appreciate getting the opportunity to watch this film and I’m sure John’s next film will be even bigger and better. Criticisms aside, this one is a lot better than most of what Asylum or the SyFy channel dishes up, I just can’t help thinking it could have been much more than it is.
My rating for “Valley Of The Sasquatch” is 5.5/10