Writer-director Ti West is best known for making horror films, including 2009’s House of the Devil and 2013’s The Sacrament, which found a fictional VICE documentary team investigating a Jim Jones-style cult. But West’s new film In a Valley of Violence is a Western which stars Ethan Hawke as the proverbial man-who-walks-into-town while John Travolta, James Ransone, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, Tommy Nohilly, and Larry Fessenden, among others, portray the locals, who greet him with varying degrees of friendliness (and, in some cases, with no friendliness at all).
“I grew up watching Westerns,” says West. “By the end of The Sacrament, I was so burned out on realism — both thematically and technically — that I wanted to make something traditionally cinematic. And to me, the most traditionally cinematic genre in American cinema is the Western.”
The experience of directing the film very much lived up to West’s dreams. “When you’re sitting there, on a dolly, with a camera pointed at Ethan Hawke, on a horse, with a gun, and a dog, and John Travolta with a wooden leg, you’re like, I’ve done something right!” he says. “We were all just so happy to be there. It was really special.”
In a Valley of Violence is screening Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET at New York’s SVA theater, followed by a Q&A with West, Ransone, Fessenden, and Nohilly. (Tickets were still available at the time of writing.) The film will be released in cinemas, on VOD, and digital HD by Focus World on Friday.
West picks his five favorite Westerns, below.
The Dollars Trilogy (1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, 1965’s For a Few Dollars More, 1966’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly)
TI WEST: I’ll count this as one. My favorite types of films are the films where, if that filmmaker didn’t exist, that movie can’t exist. There’s not another guy who was like, “Man, I had the same idea for Blue Velvet! But David Lynch got there first!” Only David Lynch makes that movie. Only Terry Gilliam makes Brazil. Only Sergio Leone makes The Dollars Trilogy. It’s a really unique voice. What’s so fun is, it’s so apparent you’re watching a movie. There’s a full embrace of cinema. Those had a profound impact.
High Plains Drifter (1973)
It’s a borderline horror film. That’s Clint Eastwood’s own version of a Man With No Name coming into a town. I like that that film has a lot of subtext, but there is no plot. Typically, I’m not very interested in plot and realism in movies. I’m interested in the filmmaking of the movies and the performances in the movies. That movie has a very bare-bones plot and they literally paint the town red. That’s such an evocative image. It doesn’t really matter that these people are going to come to the town and he’s going to help [defend the townsfolk]. You don’t see the movie a second time for that. You watch it to see all the esoteric details of the filmmaking.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
That was very profound for me because, while that is a very plot-based and realistic movie, there’s a violence in that movie that’s so visceral — and even today it’s so visceral — and that’s a credit to Peckinpah’s unique ability to make violence feel as off-putting as it should.
That’s a very poetic, somber version of a Western — in a way a reaction to the kind of movies that Clint Eastwood was making, the ones I previously referenced. This was like, What if this was real-life? What if you were an old man who had stopped being this guy? Maybe it would start to weigh on you, and the sadness would creep in. I don’t like the term “elevated” but it feels like a very elevated movie.
Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977)
It’s not necessarily the greatest movie, but the pastiche of it is so outrageous, and it’s really violent and it [has] a heightened sense of cinema. It’s the kind of movie where they dig a hole, put a guy in it, and bury him up to his neck, and put toothpicks in his eyes, to keep his eyes open, to stare at the sun. It’s a really mean-spirited, ridiculous Spaghetti Western. It’s in the spirit of the Django films and things like that. But it’s a really special one.
You can see the trailer of In a Valley of Violence, below.