Drama Releases: Peaks and Valleys (2019) - Reviewed


A man and a woman who are total strangers must work together to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. That is the basic outline of Peaks and Valleys, a drama with an intriguing opening and hints of mystery that essentially boils down to this mismatched pair arguing for 90 minutes. The Alaskan landscape is beautiful (when it is shown; though it was filmed in Alaska, most of the movie takes place in the man’s cabin, thus preventing Alaska from becoming a true presence here) and the performances are effective at capturing the emotions of the individual characters. However, in the end, there is just not enough to the plot. The beginning sets things up nicely and the conclusion provides some answers, but the lengthy middle is not particularly entertaining in the way it gets from the setup to the payoff.

Jack lives in a cabin surrounded by nothing besides trees and water. One day, a helicopter flies overhead and a large black bag is tossed out. Inside is Bailey, a woman with cuts and bruises all over her body. With no way to get to town for at least a couple of months, they’ll have to count on each other to stay alive.

This premise, established efficiently and with a reasonable amount of intensity, raises questions about both characters. For Jack, it’s why is he out there by himself? Also, why is he so antagonistic toward this woman who is clearly in need of his sympathy? For Bailey it’s what happened to her? A lot of this stuff is eventually revealed but, despite the difficult predicament they find themselves in, there isn’t much suspense. There is not a lot done with the survival aspect of the story, so the only avenue of possible tension is the answers to those questions. Yet the movie isn’t able to generate enough drama from them.

When the story does get around to telling the viewer everything, it has already lost most of what made it compelling. Approximately halfway through, Peaks and Valleys settles into a rhythm of arguing and insults, followed by grudging respect. Instead of feeling like it was building toward something for them, either a sort of bond between them or internal changes, they just kind of uncomfortably hang out for a while until it is time for the plot to wrap itself up.

The premise, characters and setting all have a ton of potential. Putting these very different people, with their specific issues, in a place that is simultaneously wide-open and completely overwhelming, is a great way to bring additional tension to the plot. Kevin T. Bennett, grumpy and standoffish as Jack, and Kitty Mahoney, psychologically damaged, but not ready to give up, as Bailey, both do pretty good work. Even the arc of the story is fairly well thought out. The problem is the arc mostly jumps from point A to point D, as opposed to getting there smoothly. The result is that points B and C drag quite a bit when Jack and Bailey begin to spin their wheels. The story and performances suffer tremendously thanks to that.

Peaks and Valleys is a movie with interesting pieces that don’t combine into something equally interesting. I was legitimately involved and excited to see where things were going for the first half hour. Then it was a lot of repetition with little forward movement and that excitement disappeared. It is a frustrating viewing experience because it is well-made in a few different areas. There’s a bunch of strong ideas here. Still, it falls just short of a recommendation due to a thinness in story and character. Unfortunately, that lack of depth is slightly too much for the good stuff to overcome.    

--Ben Pivoz