Miracle Valley (2022)
Written and Directed by Greg Sestero
Greg Sestero (yes, that Greg Sestero, “Oh, Hi Mark!”) comes to us with his directorial debut, Miracle Valley. Greg also wrote this and starred in it. Much like Tommy Wiseau did in The Room.
David, Greg Sestero’s character, is the boyfriend from hell. He made his girlfriend, Sarah, get an abortion and doesn’t like her raising the subject. He is taking her away on a trip for the weekend so he can take a photo of the rare Silver Hawk bird – they are doing what David wants to do. David knows his girlfriend wants some alone time but he has invited two of his friends along and doesn’t mention this to her, she has to this out on arrival. She accuses him of loving the rare Silver Hawk bird more than her and he “technically” does not disagree. Then he bitches about being forced into the supportive boyfriend role and admits they have nothing in common. One wonders if the relationship will still stand by the end of the movie. A lot of this could have been more subtextual, instead straight up textual, blurted out immediately. But the conflict is immediately setup and well established. David’s friend’s girlfriend flirts with him, and he’s up for it in a half-hearted “Mark” kind-way. Much of the characterization for David feels Mark-ish. Maybe I should give a little praise for the abortion reveal, restraint was exercised there. Greg half murmurs a lot of his lines, making David come across as quite ineffectual. Just the sort of person who needs to bully his girlfriend to feel significant. I really thought the Silver Hawk was a red Herring (getting my animal kingdom mixed up here) and was genuinely surprised when David actually snaps the creature. A nice comparison to big foot tells us how rare this bird is. Why is he wanting to snap a photo of a rare bird, its everything to him, and he singles out respect as his main motivation. There’s something quite sad about that. The photographing of the bird itself didn’t seem all that difficult. David is dropped off, to be picked up in two hours, and sets about scanning the local wilderness. Despite being stalked by strange male figures in the distance, David actually snaps the fictitious bird (a real bird was used as a stand in) making the whole thing look rather easy – did no-one document this bird up until now? It has to fit into the runtime of the film of course, but catching it in a two-hour time frame is a little farcical. If David had been travelling out there every year for ten years, then it might lend the difficulty in capturing the bird on celluloid some credence. And as much as my going on about the bird makes it sound like a McGuffin – it actually isn’t. It’s not the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, it’s more like the Way-Point-Finder in Star Wars Rise of SkyWalker, an object for the narrative more than the characters where the Way-Point-Finder leads Rey Skywalker (Paplatine?) to spooky lightening planet, the bird picture is essentially winning the lottery for out heroines.
Angela Mariano does well as the put-upon-girlfriend. It was good watching her put her foot down to go to the “Awakening”. It gets personal and, giving these are all strangers, quite intrusive. Again, runtime issues, the cult seduce her and she then sees them for what they really are. In real life it can take years to “de-programme” a cult member. This film takes place over the course of a weekend and there’s a lot of themes vying for screen time in this film and we only have time for so much.
There is some shoddy acting in this film. It has to be said. There’s no way around that. And the demands of the second half of this film are too much for most of the cast. People don’t behave like this. The lighting in the second half is all blues and reds. It’s like the crew of the Enterprise have beamed down to a soundstage standing in for an alien planet.
The pictures taken on David kissing his friends girlfriend are used against him, though not in a blackmailing way as I had expected. They are just presented to his girlfriend. It is part of the manipulation to get her to join, “my significant other is cheating on me! Sign me up!”
The cult is nuts. As cults are. One of cultists says “boo” to a man holding a gun on him. John Travolta shot a man in the back of Samuel L Jackson’s car for less.
There’s a twist, but the kind I am not a fan of, the “nothing has really changed” type of twist. Yes, we know that the cult have inducted (indoctrinated) Sarah, and then there’s the revelation that cult members had been trying to recruit her before she even knew of the cult, members are seen in hospital scrubs back during her abortion. This doesn’t quite track with what we know from the beginning of the film where the holiday the couple are on was the boyfriends choice and not hers. Are the Cult really that omniscient?
Rick Edwards father Jake is a definite highlight of the film, and, oddly, in all three acts despite the movies tonal shifts. He’s introduced as sinister, an encroaching menace. Then spiritual leader, metaphorically seducing David’s wife and leading her into the cult and then, BAM, act 3 madness. He hulks out and charges rhino-like straight into the danger. He was a lot of fun.
The prologue features Louisa Torres’ character, Erika who is off for a job interview. In the dead of night. I like the little controlled exhale she gives right before trying the handle of a door that won’t open. The interview at night, is odd. And having a character inside the narrative address that fact makes it no less odd. Yes, you’re creative choice was strange – well done! She is creeped on then attacked then we cut to opening credits. The film catches up with Erika, very late on and she’s turned into a psychopath, killing and cutting people up with great abandon. The film has a strong opening, but things start to waver and then crumble.
The moments of social awkwardness were my favourite. This is a thematically cluttered film and would have benefitted from some simplification.
The cult, allusions to vampirism, photography, the breakdown of a relationship. I found this film to be a smattering of ideas, any one of which worth exploring, but on the whole, all bunched in together like this, it all ends up as window dressing to a rather insubstantial meal. The vampirism is more of an afterthought. Whenever the theme came up, I realised I had previously forgotten it. One element I did like was Dr Truman’s induction video starts with him saying “Hello Mortals”. Eyebrows are raised!
There’s a shot during the opening number of a bug on its back, waving its legs in the air. I do hope that, after they got the shot, they turned it back the right way up.
David kept saying “surprise” to Sarah. This reminded me of 2020s The Invisible Man, where the abusive man in that kept saying “Surprise” to his abused partner in an almost catch-phrase like manner.