After his friend shows him the carcasses of sheep killed in the night, six year old Aslak (Adam Ekeli) goes in search of the monster that butchered them. Believing that the woods near his house hold the answers he seeks, Aslak ventures off alone, and although closure comes, it is perhaps not quite the kind that Aslak went in search of.
Valley of Shadows, a Norwegian film about loss, coming to terms with ideas too big for a child’s mind, and the secrets of the world, is beautifully shot and teeters in between fairy tale and reality, as the young boy at the heart of the story discovers secrets kept from him for far too long.
Young Adam Ekeli is fascinating as the central character Aslak; carrying the weight of the world, as well as childlike curiosity and a desire for answers throughout the film, it is hard to tear ones gaze away from the capable young actor whose adventure we go on. Ekeli is not only comfortable in front of the camera, but makes each scenes his own; his tiny frame a stark contrast against the scale of the forest he wander through, and the concepts that he is trying to understand through overheard conversations and his own observations.
Written by Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen and Clement Truffreau, there are clear parallels between Valley of Shadows and the recent A Monster Calls and Netflix’s Stranger Things, however, where these showed slylisationa nd a deliberate fascination with the past, Valley fo Shadows is a film with its feet firmly rooted in reality, it’s fingers trailing in the waters of the otherworldly. Dialogue is sparse and economical throughout the film, allowing Aslak’s face and actions to tell the story.
As director, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen allows the action on screen to tell the story, and words to take second place. The film is beautifully, hauntingly and eerily shot by Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen, and enhanced by an equally other-worldly and spine tingling score, there is a definite unsettling feel to Valley of Shadows without the film ever straying into the realm of true horror. Trouble arises, however, with the film never quite making clear the distinctions between fairy tale and reality, and the place each have in this story.
In all, Valley of Shadows is an eerie, unsettling and gratifying watch, beautifully shot, eerily scored and wonderfully carried by the young Adam Ekeli. That said, there are times when a little stronger vision could have made for a more satisfying journey, gratifying though the end may be.