Tribeca 2022 Review: Peace in the Valley

It’s a sad coincidence that Tyler Riggs’ Peace in the Valley premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival as the nation grapples with the aftermath of two horrific shootings – one in Uvalde, Texas, and another in Buffalo, New York. What could have easily been a one-sided political message about gun violence instead shifts its focus on one particular family and how they handle the aftermath of such a horrific event.

The film opens as Ashley (Brit Shaw), her husband John (Michael Abbott Jr.), and their son Jesse (William Samri) enter a store that becomes the scene of a senseless shooting. Riggs tactfully captures this moment with the sound of bullets firing and people running for their lives, but nobody is seen getting shot onscreen. Most of this opening sequence is done in unbroken takes as they make their way through the store, which places the viewer in the moment and doesn’t let go.

As John realizes that Jesse is still inside, he runs back in and leaves Ashley outside, away from the carnage. Unfortunately, while Jesse made it out alive, John did not.

Peace in the Valley then shifts its gears onto how Ashley and Jesse are coping with John’s death. This is where the script becomes a little too reliant on grief-stricken clichés and how people handle it. Jesse gets into fights at school, while Ashley starts to drink a bit more than she can handle. Ashley then goes to a support group, all while continuously making poor decisions that aren’t in the best interest for her or her son. At this point, when the movie should be at its most impactful, it instead becomes way too familiar and winds up being more emotionally disconnected than it intended.

What makes matters worse for Ashley is when John’s twin brother Billy (also played by Abbott Jr.) comes around. While he’s willing to support both Ashley and Jesse, Ashley is trying her best to distance herself from Billy. It’s not exactly clear what happened between the two of them, but there is serious tension felt in their interactions. She does make mention how Billy wishes he was half the man John was, as it makes it seem like Billy is more of the careless, deadbeat type, while John served in the military and was also a firefighter.

There are certain scenes that grab the viewer’s emotions, mostly in large part due to a terrific turn by Shaw. Throughout the film, Ashley is recognized by everyone as the wife of someone who died in a shooting. At one moment, as she and her son go shop at the store where the massacre took place, the cashier recognizes Ashley and praises John’s heroism during the shooting. You can see the overwhelming feeling that Ashley is battling, all while trying to continue her life without her husband.

But for every moment that is compelling, Peace in the Valley then takes too many obvious routes to consistently trigger the viewer’s emotions. I kept feeling like there should have been more to a story about how someone handles their feelings after a tragedy. While it felt like Riggs was just about to reach it, he then pulls back and doesn’t quite hit the mark. It has good intentions, for sure. But it doesn’t fully deliver on expectations.

David Wangberg

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter