Movies that take us beyond showing gun violence as entertainment are rare. It’s not just the immediate, factual consequences of what happens when a human being is shot, the damage done and the trauma of the moment that we rarely see. The void that comes after the horror is mostly undiscovered country.
“Peace in the Valley” is an indie drama that goes there, a quietly compelling account of what comes next and the varying responses of a newly-widowed mother to the tragedy that happened almost right in front of her.
It was just supposed to be a short stop at the supermarket, a trip to pick up items needed for ten-year-old Jess’s (William Samri) science project. We see Dad (Michael Abbott Jr.) indulge the kid, egg him on to race against the clock so they can get in and out, and Mom (Brit Shaw) try to temper that irresponsible joke.
And then we hear the first shots. As John herds his family into the back and sprints to the sound of the gunfire, Ashley weeps and we hear the unmistakable rat-a-tat firing of a semi-automatic weapon.
“Peace in the Valley” isn’t about a shooter, that shooter’s motives, the machine-gun makers, marketers and apologists, or any other victims. It’s about this family’s response to the aftermath, the empty feeling that the funeral engenders, the late arrival of John’s more devil-may-care brother (also Abbott) and what he’ll do to comfort his nephew and sister-in-law.
“Peace” mainly rests on the shoulders of Shaw, a veteran of TV guest-shots and small parts in little-seen features, and she doesn’t disappoint. Ashley is sullen enough around “Uncle Billy” to suggest that they have history, that she knows this tactless, camo-clad jerk a little too well. Her comforting mother (Dendrie Taylor) is little comfort, and her suggestion that “It’s ok to need help” gets dismissed.
The last thing Ashley wants is the “pointless pity party” of a support group, she says.
But overwhelmed and acting-out, ducking into the local honkytonk to drink and get hit on, and not rebuff it, tells her she might be wrong. Even the bar singer hitting on her recognizes her.
“I guess I’m pretty famous right now.”
Self help in a group setting is a must, but only fellow griever Sandra (Nicky Buggs) seems relatable to Ashley.
With clingy, hyperactive Jess fighting in school and begging her to let him join gun culture with fun Uncle Billy, who tactlessly invites him to “go see if we can nab us a buck,” weeks after his father was gunned down, Ashley needs all the help she can get.
Writer-director Tyler Riggs, of “God’s Waiting Room,” finds a few twists and turns to throw at us in this somewhat novel variation on a timeworn “grief” melodrama. The occasional seriously sad exchange stands out as much as the sexual come-ons, which are jarring and generic thanks to their grating male writer-director’s point-of-view “tells.”
Punches are pulled and things left unsaid in Ashley’s disapproval of her tactless brother-in-law’s hunting invitation. But in this corner of the world, being anti anything to do with firearms is not something the pickup truck set says aloud.
“Peace in the Valley” is a good film, showing a lot of promise behind the camera and in front of it. Hopefully somebody will pick it up and distribute it, and soon. Because if there’s any country that needs to consider how crushing and disruptive gun violence is, it’s this one.
Rating: unrated, sex, profanity, smoking
Cast: Brit Shaw, Michael Abbott Jr., Nicky Buggs, William Samri and Dendrie Taylor
Credits: Scripted and directed by Tyler Riggs. Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Running time: 1:28