‘Death Valley’ Review: The Undercooked Monster Fest

'Death Valley' Review

‘Death Valley’ is a low-budget monster flick streaming on Shudder from December 9, written and directed by Canadian helmer Matthew Ninaber.

The movie stars Matthew himself, his brother Jeremy Ninaber, Ethan Mitchel, Kristen Kaster, and Matt Daciw, among many others.

The narrative follows a team of freelance mercenaries that is sent on a rescue mission to a bioresearch facility located in a remote area in Bosvania to rescue a scientist who appears to be the sole surviving member of staff after a monster apocalypse.

The operation is divided into two teams with charming Beckett played by Jeremy Ninaber and foul-mouthed sniper Marshal, a role by Ethan Mitchel, representing the Bravo team that is tasked with defending the Alpha squad from local outlaws that have infested the neighboring woods.

'Death Valley' Review

As expected, things go haywire, and the pair is forced to take refuge inside the bunker that is covered in pools of blood, a classic case of jumping from the pan right into the fire.

In the film’s opening scene, bioengineer Chloe, played by Kristen Kaster, is heartlessly locked inside the facility by the heavily built baddie Olek embodied by Matt Dacia.

The terrifying creature lurking in the shadows of the bunker is genetically crafted and greatly resembles past critters from the ‘Resident Evil’ saga as it stalks the corridor where Chloe is cowering in fear.

Chloe is impressively brave as she confronts the nasty critter when it bears its sharp, ugly claws ready to devour her as terror tears through her body.

The claustrophobic feel inside the bunker intensifies the feeling of fear, as the two partners crawl through the narrow vents and ducts which intensifies the suspense among audiences.

Audiences watch with bated breath as bioengineer Chloe, their extraction package, navigates halls with the flickering lights in the facility, which are on the verge of collapse, leaving the hunter and hunted in pitch darkness.

The banter between the two special ops adds a unique flair to the narrative making it more exciting and engaging.

To propel the narrative forward, Beckett and Marshall’s reinforcements are, of course, eliminated, and now the twosome finds themselves stuck in a bunker full of dead bodies and a novel raging monster that can gobble them up any moment.

The movie’s action aspect is more prominent than the monster trope. The encounter in the woods with the militia puts fantastic stunt work fully on display as the characters maneuver through the trees, dodging streams of bullets while trying to take down the looming enemy. 

This intense action is basically what occupies the first part of the movie, diverting heavily from the monster aspect.

But these scenes aren’t all that oddly placed, as they help the audience to understand how skilled this rescue team is and their capability to handle what is coming next, in this case, the monster inside the bunker.

The editing features plenty of slow-motion scenes for the action scenes, which of course, would work if used sparingly, but it’s overkill for this film and is a bit off-putting. It is probably done to extend the movie’s running time.

RELATED: 50 Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies of All Time (RANKED)

Despite not being the best low-budget monster movie ever made, ‘Death Valley’ gives its all as it tries to keep a great sense of spatial awareness throughout its run time.

Some highly suspenseful moments in this title include when Chloe tiptoes around her infected coworkers as well as a dismembered monster mug that is terrifyingly ugly. 

To keep the audience’s curiosity cultivated, Ninaber threads this monster walk with just enough breadcrumbs of the story, including some references about the creature being the biblical Nephilim. 

This storytelling tactic also tries to justify making Kaster’s character what appeared to be a kind of femme fatale status at the beginning of the movie.

Ninaber is not trying to outdo the flicks in this genre that came before Death Valley with this feature as he heavily borrows from these same movies making the end product feel like a mash-up of different scenes from different movies.

The shots capturing this nasty creature as Beckett and the rest of the survivors are excellently done props to the director of cinematography Brent Tremain.

When it comes to the threat at hand, facing a single deadly monster isn’t the worst encounter in the monster verse. As mentioned earlier, financial constraints only allowed for a single monster, and the movie portrays this baddie fantastically.

Narrative-wise, there is nothing unique between Beckett’s one last mission before he dives headfirst into parenthood or humankind’s inflated ego or rather the tight-shirted loonies viewers have witnessed holding innocent civilians hostage so many times before.

But despite never being fully disturbing, ‘Death Valley’ disappoints most when it isn’t a monster movie, which it actually is but seems to forget quite often as it takes way too much time to introduce the critter. Also, the creature gets very little screen time, and audiences don’t get enough time to get to know or even appreciate this magnificent creation doom spelling creation.

However, there is plenty of violence with bouts of blood-spattered everywhere that gives this title some points gore-wise.

The voice dubbing is pretty sloppy and amateurish in several key scenes. The lighting isn’t the best as many scenes are pretty dark, causing a strain on the person watching the film. The music is quite generic, and the dialogue is outright cringeworthy. 

The performances, too, from the entire cast, which consisted of Ninaber’s relatives and collaborators, wasn’t really outstanding, which to some extent weighed the movie down.

‘Death Valley’ isn’t one of those features that linger in audiences’ memories long after they debut, and one can’t blame it considering it isn’t a blockbuster kind of a film.

Overall’ Death Valley’ is still worth checking out just to appreciate the well-designed monster and the visual effects in the movie. However, if one is offended by violence or indecent language, it is better to skip this one as this film is fully packed with these.

SCORE: 5/10

  • Hrvoje Milakovic is co-owner of Fiction Horizon and a big cinephile. Apart from that, he likes to read comics, play games and collect action figures. He has been featured on LifeWire, Yahoo and IMDb, to name a few.