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By Michael Talbot-Haynes | September 18, 2023

Easton’s stunning sophomore feature is a modern pulp opera of the highest order. Valleyheart is one of the best neo-noir films of the 21st century. Not since John Dahl’s heyday three decades ago have we seen such a magnificent plunge into cinema darkness. The filmmaker immediately puts her stamp on the picture with the bold choice of a 7-minute uninterrupted shot that is a white-hot injection of immediacy. Her razor-sharp screenwriting establishes the entire premise within 45 seconds, which may be a script land speed record.

Then Easton drops open the trap door, and we see where the blood is coming out. With this simple reveal, she shows why the crime picture is high art. Easton pinpoints that ledge of devastation that so many L.A. residents teeter on that makes Southern California such an organic part of the genre. While taking us on a spin through the blood-stained shadows, Ladytron treats us to a perfectly eerie score. Yes, that Ladytron. No, it isn’t a collection of the band’s songs; it’s original compositions. The music Ladytron composed for Valleyheart is exactly the nuanced and potent electronic scoring that we need more of in the future. The score adds high stylization to the gritty visuals noir is accustomed to, like sonic Venetian blind shadows.

“…Easton deliver[s] some of the most devastating satire of the Los Angeles grind since Nathaniel West.”

I have repeatedly pointed out how smart it is for actresses to take control of their own material, and Easton proves it. As a writer, she gives herself the opportunity to conduct an emotional symphony that her acting side can relish. This insight helps Easton deliver some of the most devastating satire of the Los Angeles grind since Nathaniel West. The sections with the agent character are fiendishly hilarious and accurate, hitting perfectly comedic timing. That there’s a quote from Dorothy Parker in the end credits gives you an idea of the taste level achieved. There are also these very surprising eruptions from out of nowhere included in the proceedings.

Tommy’s speech over the phone to the San Diego wealthy family members is priceless cinema, with Herholdt doing a stellar performance and Mary O’Neil and Maiya Reaves slaying it as well. Goes is wonderful as the grizzled ex-cop. He’s authentically well-worn, like the old Pioneer Chicken sign. Valleyheart shows why the Southern California way of death should never go out of style. After this palm tree pulse pounder, I cannot wait to see what newly minted indie auteur Easton crafts next. 

Valleyheart (2023)

Directed and Written: Kathryne Isabelle Easton

Starring: Kathryne Isabelle Easton, Anthony Goes, Jack Herholdt, Jeremy S. Walker, Robert Ramirez, Mary O' Neil, Maiya Reaves, Collin Babcock, Scott Babock, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

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"…I cannot wait to see what newly minted indie auteur Easton crafts next. "

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