Premiering today in Norwegian cinemas is Valley of Shadows, a gothic thriller with elements of mystery and perhaps the supernatural. The debut film of director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen has received favourable reviews.
Having previously directed a few short films, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s feature debut is not a conventional horror film, but more a mystical fable blending dreams and myths and imagination. The film, which is based on an idea from 2004 and was made over two years, was shot on 35mm film, with precise attention given to cinematography, music and lighting.
The film (original title: Skyggenes Dal) is set between the sea and the mountains in a small village in Norway. Aslak (6) lives with his mother Astrid, when a tragic event occurs that Aslak can’t quite understand and Astrid struggles to handle. In a quest for answers, Aslak ventures into the dark forest behind his house. Is what happens on his journey merely a boy’s imagination or is it reality? The creepy and gothic film was selected as an official part of the renowned Toronto international film festival, where Steve Gravestock is responsible for finding Nordic films. -Norwegian movies have had an exciting period of development, and Jonas’ film is quite special. It flirts with different genres and is strikingly beautiful, he said to NRK.
International reviews may add to your understanding of the film, should you not have the possibility to see it yet:
- ReelFilm.com: “There’s certainly nothing conventional about Valley of Shadows in terms of its execution, as first-time filmmaker Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen delivers a spare narrative that’s rife with bizarre, often inexplicable attributes – with the film, which progresses at a pace best described as challenging, segueing from a comparatively familiar opening stretch into a fairy-tale-like second half.”
- TheFilmStage.com: “Bask in the mystery of not knowing whether Gulbrandsen has made a poignant drama or a bona fide horror because the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The film doesn’t need to embrace those genres literally for their labels to be apt either, the mood and tone our wonder absorbs proves as relevant as seeing something concretely fantastical onscreen anyway. Gulbrandsen isn’t telling a story, he’s leading us through one with all the uncertainty necessary to question, interpret, and understand despite no true answers being provided. Whether a monster is murdering those sheep is inconsequential to the existence of one blocking Aslak’s path.”
- Cine-Vue.com: “Valley of Shadows‘ relentlessly slow pace and lack of narrative incident will doubtless turn off gore hounds after a quick fix of lupine action […] but things pick up when Aslak’s dog creepily growls at something just out of frame before bolting for the woods, prompting Aslak to brave the forest alone. It’s in this sequence that Valley of Shadows truly comes into its own. Channelling a near-Tarkovskian sense of space, Gulbrandsen imbues every tree branch and every shaft of light with ethereal life, captured beautifully by his brother Marius’ cinematography. […] the mundane becomes mystical, and the dangerous becomes the alluring […] At once tender, eerie and surreal, Valley of Shadows is a coming-of-age tale like no other.”
- ScreenDaily.com: “An entrancing Norwegian gothic fable told with haunting visuals and striking tonal assurance, Valley of Shadows turns childhood fears into a ruminative and resonant horror effort. Predicated around a mysterious spate of sheep slaughters during a full moon, and playing with loss and grief in its wander through sinister woods, it marks a strong debut for Norwegian writer/director Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen, as well as an enigmatic and magnetic addition to the atmospheric Nordic fold.”
- BirthMoviesDeath.com: “The title Valley of Shadows speaks to its diaphanous nature, a difficult to pin down, ephemeral tale that nonetheless speaks to a greater illumination that helps cast its form. Those wanting a more kinetic experience will be disappointed, as will those easily bored by mood over narrative. But for those willing to visit this dark and troubled land, this is very much a valley worth visiting.”
- HollywoodReporter.com: “There are no cheap jump scares here, no jittery editing or sudden shocks. Gulbrandsen is more interested in layering ambiguities than in solving mysteries, and his script (co-written with Clement Tuffreau) keeps dialogue to a minimum. But there’s real confidence in the filmmaking, creating a shadowy world that washes over you, in which a boy gets lost in his nightmares, perhaps learning that the monster all children fear is a force to be protected.”
The film, which by many will probably be regarded as an art-house drama, has also received favourable reviews in Norwegian media, with a 5 of 6 rating from VG, Fædrelandsvennen, Filmmagasinet, Cinema and NRK’s Film Police.
The 91 minute film stars Kathrine Fagerland, John Olav Nilsen, Adam Ekeli, Jone Hope Larsen and Lennard Salamon, and is written by Clement Tuffreau and Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen. It opens theatrically on October 20th in Norway. International distribution (beyond festivals) TBC.