Day 2 of SXSW is still going strong here in Downtown Austin as I write this at 11:15 PM local time, and things won’t shut down for another few hours thanks to midnight screenings and the mindscrew of the switch to Daylight Savings Time.
Aside from copious screenings — I saw SXSW co-founder Louis Black’s documentary Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (it’s great by the way) — there was a minor controversy that flared up today courtesy of an overzealous SXSW volunteer who made a young Muslim attendee (a member of the Team USA Olympic fencing squad in fact) remove her hijab in order to take the photo for her festival badge. The festival apologized, as they should have, though I can tell you at least from where I stood the unfortunate matter was practically unknown on the ground where people were too busy waiting in long lines to check the Internet.
Meanwhile, I caught the world premiere of Blumhouse’s new Western In A Valley Of Violence, written and directed by The Sacrement helmer Ti West. This isn’t a review but I loved it and I can’t wait to see the film — which lives up to its name — again as soon as it goes wide this fall.
Riding a wave of viscerally brutal Western revivals that includes the recent pics Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight, the film features Ethan Hawke in a stunning performance as a PTSD-suffering drifter in vaguely-the-1870s American West who, while riding south to Mexico escape an undetermined nasty past in the U.S. Army, stumbles on a tiny border town where he runs afoul of the arrogant but incompetent local law enforcement. Hunted down later, his beloved pet dog is killed before his eyes and he’s left for dead; when he survives, he embarks on a rampage of revenge that I won’t spoil here but can assure you lives very much up to the film’s title.
We’ll get it out of the way so we can move on — In A Valley Of Violence is going to get a lot of comparisons to John Wick. That’s superficially fair, as both films are revenge thrillers with the main character’s pet dog as the motivating part of the plot. But from my viewing the two films occupy different moral universes and have wildy differing tones. Even so, I caught up with both West and Jason Blum after the screening and asked them about it.
“We were worried about John Wick,” Blum told me, characteristically frank about the matter. “I didn’t read the script, I asked Ti if he was worried, he said [no]. I am worried about it for sure. There are plot similarities, but the setting is different.”
“John Wick came out when we were almost done editing. I haven’t seen it but I was like [noise indicating anxiety],” West said to me later. “But… isn’t the dog in it for like two seconds? And also to me, I never wanted to see [Valley Of Violence] as about the killer’s dog. That happens in the movie but it’s much more about how violence affects these people than anything else. I just felt like, ‘Alright, the dog’s there, everything else is different.’ ”
So how did the film end up centered on a dog? “All my friends seem to have a dog, and it’s like they treat their dogs like their kids, so that’s interesting to me,” West says. “And because the movie deals with PTSD from war, and dogs are very helpful with that, and also dogs are man’s best friend. Ultimately I watched my friends be obsessed with their dogs and I don’t know people seem to care about dogs more than people.”
The night isn’t over. I’m about to catch the work-in-progress screening of Key & Peele’s Keanu (speaking of John Wick), but I’ll be updating this with more from my chat with West and Blum later tonight.