Despite clearly belonging to a lineage of oddball, lo-fi comedy, A Dim Valley still marks itself as a unique contribution.
Shot through a gauzy haze, at once evoking a sense of nostalgia while also displacing the film from any specific time period, Brandon Colvin’s A Dim Valley is a fairly unique comedy made out of borrowed pieces of cultural memory and signifiers. One must qualify with “fairly unique,” as A Dim Valley is certainly of a particular American indie aesthetic that’s been especially popular this last decade — most recently Ham on Rye and Two Plains & a Fancy; most iconically, For the Plasma — placing the film within a specific lineage, though Colvin’s screenplay has a humor and philosophy all its own, confidently carrying the film up and over the pitfalls of cliche and redundancy.
Set at a scenic eastern Kentucky campground, removed from civilization, A Dim Valley initially concerns itself with three men — 2 grad students and their professor — who have set up camp there to conduct a summer research project. Despite the high-minded pretext for gathering these three together in the remote wilderness, no one seems terribly focused on science, with Whitmer Thomas and Zach Weintraub’s spaced-out grad guys mostly getting stoned and fucking off, their grumbly mentor (Robert Longstreet) bumbling around, failing to keep them in line. Their dynamic is cleverly appropriated from the likes of ‘70s/’80s Summer Camp cinema, borrowing iconography and language from such films, getting big laughs out of filtering them through the stilted, arch style of delivery and performance embraced by the cast (and indeed, every actor is quite committed and quite funny).
Colvin’s riff on this archetypal plot continues when the boys’ isolated summer hang is upended by the arrival of a trio of female backpackers (one of whom is played by For the Plasma’s Rosalie Lowe) whose semi-mythic qualities force these two to reckon with the homoerotic tension underpinning their languid days together. A Dim Valley’s great appeal is that it handles the big emotional journey at its center with a sense of wit and whimsy that keeps the screenplay away from easy beats and payoffs without selling out its characters or playing their relationships as frivolous. The film is distributed by Altered Innocence, a company whose catalog represents something like a canon of actually interesting contemporary queer cinema, and A Dim Valley nicely aligns with the brand’s taste for the forward-thinking, a familiar tale of queer yearning and exploration, rendered bright, funny, and new by a filmmaker with a developed sense of style.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | July 2021.