For most Americans, there's likely another month to go before we can even think about heading over to our neighborhood cinema to check out the latest releases.
Okay, maybe there's a drive-in.
Plus, yeah, there's still Netflix and chillin', Amazon Prime, and a host of other streaming options ranging from the wonders of Criterion to Ovid to Disney+ and quite a few others.
But, really. For most of us? It's hurry up and wait.
Well, unless you've booked yourself a trip to Alaska for this weekend.
You have. Haven't you?
If you have, you may very well have one of the few options to catch a new movie in theaters this weekend when Peaks and Valleys, an indie drama from Alaska native Michael Burns, arrives in a limited release that likely puts the "limited" in limited release. Opening in 2 theaters owned by the Coming Attractions theater chain, you can catch Peaks and Valleys at Kenai Cinemas in Kenai, Alaska and at the Valley Cinema in Wasilla, Alaska.
I mean, seriously. What are you waiting for?
Following its world premiere at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival where it served up the fest's first ever sold-out screening (and did so three times!), this feature thriller continued to entertain festival audiences throughout 2019 and is now set to dazzle Alaska audiences with its thrilling story set in the hypnotically beautiful wilderness backdrop of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley of Alaska.
Jack (Kevin T. Bennett) is practically what you expect from a hard-nosed guy living in the Alaskan wilderness. He's alone and obviously likes it that way, more grunts than grins fill his face and after a few minutes with him you can't help but imagine that he's been out here for years. When he encounters Bailey (Kitty Mahoney), she just sort of drops in.
Wrapped in plastic and thrown from a plane into a rural Alaska lake, she rather horrifyingly wakes up naked and battered in Jack's isolated cabin alongside a Jack who is obviously of the mind that he'd rather she not be there.
Traumatized and without much in the way of options, Bailey is going to have to tap into a strength she doesn't know she has in order to overcome her trauma and survive long enough to get back to something resembling civilization before the winter sets in. Along the way, she may very well figure out that Jack's own secrets may be secrets never meant to leave that isolated cabin.
Gritty and grizzled, Peaks and Valleys at first seems like it may be a cousin to an Eastwood flick, Bennett's worn and torn appearance and sparsely spoken words at least a distant cousin to Eastwood but perhaps a bit less aggressively so. For my own money, Peaks & Valleys reminded me even more of True Grit, especially the Coen remake, with Bennett doing an even better Bridges and Kitty Mahoney's Bailey somewhere between Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie and Jennifer Lawrence's breakout turn in Winter's Bone.
In case you're wondering, all of these things are compliments.
Michael B. Dillon's dialogue is sparse, though everything he puts on the page means something and you can feel it in the way it's delivered. Bennett makes the film a thriller long before you know it's a thriller, his presence heavy and intentional with just a little sliver of light.
Mahoney's Bailey is initially histrionic enough that I was irritated right alongside Jack, though it's rather awesome to watch her transformation over the course of the film.
The lensing by Bryan Pentecostes captures both the absolute wonder of this Alaskan region along with the precariousness of the stark, thrilling story that unfolds. The original score by Evan Evans weaves itself gently yet effectively throughout the story's, you guessed it, peaks and valleys.
Taking a familiar set-up and breathing new life into it, Michael Burns and Michael B. Dillon have created an engaging and captivating thriller with strong characters who linger in your mind long after the closing credits have rolled by. Weaving together moments of interpersonal tranquility alongside thrills and a few chills, Peaks & Valleys may not be a film you'll fly to Alaska to see but if you're lucky enough to be in Alaska this weekend it's a terrific film to check out at your neighborhood cinema.
For more information on Peaks and Valleys, check out the film's Facebook page linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic