Credit: Epic Pictures
Before We Vanish by Daniel Gorman Film

Val | Aaron Fradkin

October 29, 2021

Val suggests talent behind the camera, but it’s largely wasted on a wisp of an idea.

There’s a deep, dark mystery at the heart of director Aaron Fradkin’s Val — a mystery that is literally revealed by the movie’s own marketing material. Indeed, any image accompanying an article or review of the film likely gives away the big rug-pull, which is unfortunate as it takes almost half of the film’s 80-minute runtime for the narrative proper to kick in. In fact, Val tries to pull off a few different high-wire acts and fails at pretty much all of them. It’s neither particularly funny nor scary, a pretty big stumbling block for an ostensible horror-comedy, and by mostly limiting its scenario to two main characters who spend virtually every minute of the film’s runtime talking to each other, there’s a distinct lack of either chemistry or tension.

The film begins with Fin (Zachary Mooren) on the run from police. He’s been involved in a car accident while fleeing an unspecified crime scene. He winds up taking refuge in a large, beautifully appointed mansion occupied by high-class escort Val (Misha Reeves). Fin is suffering from a concussion, and his attempts to order around and otherwise manhandle Val gradually reveal a man way in over his head. For her part, Val appears to be submissive and demure, but at a certain point begins to become more assertive and even starts flaunting herself in front of a confused Fin. An unexpected visit from a client provides the film its first narrative hiccup, as Fin first tries to hide from but then must confront the unsuspecting but potentially violent man. The problem here is that the audience already knows what Fin does not — Val is a demon, here to manipulate and tempt him — and waiting for the other shoe to drop becomes a tedious waiting game.

As the sexy, sarcastic demon, Reeves makes quite an impression. She seems to be the only one having any fun, or with an understanding of exactly how to pitch this kind of material. Mooren isn’t bad as the fumbling, wanna-be crook, and a belated flashback that fills in his character’s backstory makes the man agreeably sympathetic. But the occasional intrusion by bit players known mostly for sketch comedy (Kyle Howard and Veep’s Sufe Bradshaw show up as cops searching for Fin) are jarring, and Fradkin, with co-writer Victoria Fratz, can’t seem to get the tone right. Even worse is the shrug of an ending, which plays out as a simplistic, annoyingly familiar moral conundrum. Val is ultimately a passable calling card movie, which might have benefited from being a short or part of a Tales from the Crypt-style anthology. There’s talent on display here, but it’s largely wasted on a wisp of an idea.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | October 2021.