Given the recent wave of tragedies, watching a film depicting a mass shooting might be a little heavy on the nerves. 2021’s The Fallout‘s narrative follows high school kids dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting. Peace In The Valley confines the ramifications to a single-family — specifically, how a mother picks up the pieces after an immense loss. Ashley (Brit Shaw), her husband John (Michael Abbott Jr.), and their son Jesse (William Samiri) take an innocent trip to the grocery store. Suddenly, a gunman enters, and while Ashley takes shelter in a storeroom, John goes to help and loses his life. Writer/director Tyler Riggs shows nothing jarring (the gunshots fuel enough anxiety), but the heaviness of John’s loss has a lasting presence throughout Peace In The Valley.
Now. Ashley has to navigate being a widow and a single mother, all while handling an excessive amount of grief. That depiction falls upon the shoulders of Shaw, which she depicts with unbridled honesty. Riggs gives Shaw’s character space to languish in heavy emotions and communicate things nonverbally about what she’s going through. Ashley’s mother, Margaret (Dendrie Taylor), offers help often — but how does one accept it that doesn’t replace the lost person? Jesse gets into a fight at school, but otherwise has been taking the tragedy as well as a person could. Ashley worries about the day when that might not be the case for her son while she fights to stay afloat.
To make matters even more complicated, John had a twin brother named Billy (also played by Abbott Jr.). The film indicates that Ashley and Billy knew each other before she met John. This weird tension resonates between the two characters and manifests in specific ways. It could be because they either have a past or the physical presence similar to her late husband. Peace In The Valley leaves parts of that storyline up to interpretation. From what we know about John’s background, he was a firefighter and a veteran. His sacrifice at the grocery story only added to John’s spectrum of heroic nature — a weight that is hard for Ashley and Billy to live under. Billy mentions that it’s a reminder every time he looks in the mirror. Ashley will have to love again eventually, and John seems like a tough act to follow.
Some plot developments that could have made Peace In The Valley’s voice discernible from other films are touched on and not developed. Jesse has a brief fascination with guns and hunting, hanging out with his uncle Billy. Where that briefly becomes a concern for Ashley, it’s left by the wayside, other than childhood stories about Billy and John wanting a Red Rider BB gun. With all the recent discussion about gun safety and culture, Riggs doesn’t elect to be preachy either way. Valley operates to its apex as an onlooker witnessing Ashley’s inner and outer turmoil.
To make sense of what she lost, Ashley goes to a weekly collective of fellow widows who try to describe how the void feels. At first, Ashley is against it — a meeting in a diner with Sandra (Nicky Buggs), a woman who lost her husband and children in a tragic car accident, changes her outlook slightly. After Ashley declares she’s tired of being sorry for herself, Sandra proclaims things will never be like they were again. The person who opened pickle jars and did odd jobs, like chopping tree branches down in the yard, is not returning.
Are we ever ok after tragedy? It’s a timely question Peace In The Valley poses to us viewers. These occurrences are random and cruel and can taint even the most innocent memories. Rectifying that is messy and scary, but sometimes enlightening.
Photo Credit: Tribeca 2022