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film review

Joe Perry and Mikaele Cochrane as Henry and Kate in The Valley Below.

Calgary native Kyle Thomas's assured first feature, which consists of four interrelated dramas set in Drumheller, Alta., didn't get the praise it deserved with its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.

Away from the festival lights, though, this slow-burn collection of narratives, with its moody cinematography, original soundtrack and emotionally authentic performances, looks even stronger. The stories hinge on the turning points in its characters' lives, between hope and disappointment: A college-bound girl (Mikaela Cochrane) breaks up with her boyfriend on a farewell camping trip, while hiding a secret from him; a Zamboni-driving musician (Kris Demeanor) fights a losing battle with the bottle; and a taxidermist (Stephen Bogaert) watches the collapse of his marriage.

The film's happiest character, a good-natured cop and part-time DJ (Alejandro Rae) enjoys an affectionately kinky relationship with his wife, but suffers under the burden of serving as guardian for his troubled community.