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Film / Das Finstere Tal

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Freedom is a gift that not everyone likes to receive.

"Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?"

Das Finstere Tal (in English, The Dark Valley) is a 2014 Austro-German film starring Sam Riley. It was chosen to represent Austria in the Foreign-Language Film category of the 2014 Academy Awards.

A mysterious American stranger called Greider arrives in a tiny Tyrolean village in the Austrian Alps to take photographs of the people and landscape. He rents a room from a widow and her daughter, and soon discovers the dark secret haunting the town: it is under the thrall of the powerful and sadistic Brenner family, consisting of six brothers and their father, who exercise Droit du Seigneur on all the women of the village and routinely terrorize the villagers for no reason other than petty villainy. But Greider has secrets of his own, including how he speaks German so well for a foreigner...

This film provides examples of:

  • After Action Patch Up: A completely platonic version at the end, as Greider has a gotten a metal hook through his shoulder and experienced a horrible shock.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Is Greider Child by Rape or the Old Brenner made a last, spiteful remark simply to mess with him? Decide yourself, for the film is deliberately keeping it ambigious.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The movie can be set anywhere in the second half of the 19th century. A lot of elements give it an anachronistic look, being either too late or too early for any given year. It technically happens anywhere after 1875, since that's the year stamped on the golden coin, but that makes the setting even more anachronistic.
  • Anti-Hero: Greider would probably be a Villain Protagonist if it wasn't for the fact that the Brenners are a lot worse than he is.
  • Asshole Victim: The entire Brenner clan is killed, and at least one person thanks Greider for picking them off. Even so, the Brenners have left their mark enough that Luzi fears someone might take revenge on Greider.
  • Attempted Rape: To Luzi on her wedding night. Sadly averted for every other girl in village.
  • Best Served Cold: It took an entire generation to get the revenge for rape and murder the Brenners committed on Greider's parents.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Greider is polite and soft spoken, but is absolutely brutal towards his enemies.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Greider for Luzi, when he shows out of the blue when she's transported to Brenner's house.
  • Bigger Stick: Greider wins against the superior numbers of the Brenner boys by virtue of his Winchester repeating rifle, which allows him to keep firing without having to stop, unload the spent shell, reload, and cock before shooting again.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Greider is no saint and his methods cross into Pay Evil unto Evil territory, but the Brenner clan consists of murderers and rapists.
  • Book Ends: The song "Sinnerman" over shots of Greider riding in and out of valley.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted and subverted. The hunting guns are all double-barrel shotguns or single shot rifles, so they require constant reload. Greider's Winchester shots 10 times without reloading, but that's entirely within the magazine capabilities.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Greider hides behind the body of the youngest of the brothers. Everyone is sure he's dead already, after taking the bullet from under the chin. Turns out he was still alive, but his brothers killed him trying to hit Greider.
  • But Now I Must Go: More like "but now YOU must go." While Greider has saved the village, he's murdered a bunch of people. He can't stay, even if he wanted to.
  • The Cavalry: Lukas, for Greider when he almost gets killed by the blacksmith, via a Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind.
  • Camera Abuse: At the climax, blood spatters on the camera.
  • Cat Scare: After killing the Brenner brothers, Greider is startled from behind. He raises his gun only to realize that it's a child. Then the blacksmith comes up behind him...
  • Chekhov's Gun: The horseshoe nails.
  • Child by Rape: Old Brenner impregnated Greider's mother when he raped her.
  • Combat Pragmatist: A notable subversion of Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him? happens in the third act. The Brenners, when faced with the opportunity of dueling Greider, decide to ambush him well before the scheduled duel instead. It doesn't work.
  • Confessional: Greider confesses his role in the murder of the Brenners to the priest. And then he shoots the priest.
  • Counting Bullets: Villainous example. Brenners eventually are left with only four shells for their two double-barelled shotguns, desperately searching their pockets for more. It's eventually subverted - despite having four shots, they only manage to fire twice before being gunned down.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Four Brenners come to ambush Greider while he's asleep. He shoots them all dead within three minutes.
    • The fight between Greider and the blacksmith. If Lukas hadn't been there, Greider would be dead, and as it is he's left with a severely wounded shoulder.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Greider's father was tortured and then crucified alive. When he died, his body was left there until it decomposed entirely and the skeleton was picked by wild animals. When adult Greider shows up in the valley, the cross is still there.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Justified. The Brenner brothers never saw Winchester rifle before and Greider did his best to pretend it shoots only twice and needs a reload just like them. The face of the last Brenner brother as he looks at the barrel and Greider just reloads to dent him is precious.
    • They also never assumed Grieder would be hiding under the floor, thus avoiding all their fire on his lodge.
  • The Drifter: Greider.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Old Brenner seems distraught by the deaths of his sons, and some of those sons have wives and children of their own, although their reaction to Old Brenner's death is ambiguous, and they may have been just as subject to the family's depravities as the rest of the valley.
  • Eye Scream: The second Brenner brother is blinded with a spiked tree branch, then falls to his death. The fact one of the horse-shoe spikes is find in his eye socket is what causes the Brenners to realise that someone is picking them off.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The Old Brenner embraces his execution, but then you realise he lived his entire life as the master of his valley and would die due to natural cause in short time anyway, basically making the revenge a moot point.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Almost literal example. If a horseshoe nail didn't remain in the eye socket of the second killed brother, it would look like a random hunting accident.
  • Force Feeding:
    • One of the Brenners asks Greider to drink with them. He refuses. Impromptu water-boarding with schnapps ensues.
    • Greider forces one of the inkeepers who sold out his parents for money to eat a couple of gold coins at gunpoint, trying to choke her to death with said coins.
  • Forced to Watch: As part of their torment, Greider's mother was forced to watch all the tortures inflicted to her husband, while he was simultaneously forced to watch her rape.
  • Heroic BSoD: Greider has one at the end. Luzi has one throughout her entire wedding, out of sheer fear of what might happen to her afterwards.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Played with a bit of realism. It heavily depends on who, where and with what was shot, the effects ranging from bruising wounds to killing in single bullet. One of the Brenners survived a bullet put in his head.
  • Kick the Dog: See Force Feeding.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: When Greider finally has a showdown with Brenners, he knee-caps the one who force-feed him a schnapps and was established throughout the entire film as the most unstable and brutal of the entire clan. When remaining brothers hide behind trees, he instead fires another non-lethal shot on the knee-capped one to torment him and force the remaining Brenners to show their faces.
  • Knee-capping: The mentioned above Brenner gets disabled as the first in the fight, by taking a shot into his knee. The resulting injury makes him unable to even drag himself away out of the pain and then takes another bullet for being the easiest target to hit.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Brenner patriarch is Greider's real father.
  • Make an Example of Them: For defying Brenners, Greider's father was tortured and his mother raped, both Forced to Watch. Then the father was crucified alive and his body was left there untreated until animals picked what was left of it. Years later, that cross is still standing at the entry to the valley..
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A surprisingly heroic version. With a bit of luck, Greider could have continued picking off Brenners one by one for the entire winter.
  • Mirror Character: Greider and the Brenners. Greider's violence borders on the same sadism that the Brenners gleefully use to control the village. Given that Greider is actually another Brenner son, it's possible that this is Foreshadowing.
  • Mugging the Monster: Happens twice. First time around Greider wasn't even trying to fight back, so the Brenners assumed he's some sort of wimp. Next time around, he effortlessly kills four of them in cold blood, even though they tried to ambush him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Greider has a moment of this after attacking the innkeeper's wife.
  • No Name Given: Countless characters remain unnamed. It makes talking about individual Brenner brothers really hard, since none of them has name given in-story.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Averted with Martin's family, who are decent enough, support Greider's actions and help shelter Luzi.
  • Oh, Crap!: The oldest brother realising Greider has more than two shots ready.
  • Passing the Torch: Implied with Lukas. He's seen with a rifle near the end, implying that he can protect the village in Greider's stead.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Though it's only one of the Brenners' many vices, it's definitely the worst.
  • Recycled In Space: High Plains Drifter in 19th century Austria.
  • Scenery Porn: The Alps are gorgeous.
  • Sinister Minister: The priest is also part of the Brenner clan, providing them with outright religious sanction for their actions. And he was the one forcing Greider's mother to watch as they torture her husband.
  • Small, Secluded World: The valley, doubly so after it gets cut out from the rest of the world each winter due to the pass being covered in snow.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: The small, remote Tyrolean valley is ruled with an iron fist by the Brenner clan, under the guide of the Old Brenner. Anyone showing any signs of disobedience is flat-out killed via brutal torture, intimidating everyone else.
  • Snow Means Death: Greider only starts his revenge plot when the winter starts and nobody can leave the valley anymore due to snow in the pass.
  • Snowed-In: Once snow blocks the mountain passes leading to it, the valley is completely cut off from the outside world during winter. It's part of the reason why the Brenners can maintain their rule and also what Greider counts for when he starts hunting them one by one - there is nowhere to escape.
  • Suspiciously Specific Sermon: The village priest gives one about Mary and Joseph. Of course, this means that he's comparing the Brenners to God himself.
  • Thicker Than Water: Brenner "clan" is made of half-brothers, all sired by Old Brenner. They are fiercely loyal to each other and the old man, partially due to being family and partially because he raised them exactly like that.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The Brenners practice Droit du Seigneur on every girl in the village, and the first child in every family is a Brenner. Everyone in the village is in on it.
  • Tyke Bomb:
    • The Brenner "clan" is composed of half-brothers, all of whom are immature, violent brutes.
    • Greider's mother raised him with revenge in mind. He grew up, trained himself with a rifle, crossed half the world to visit a forgotten Tyroleon valley and proceeds with executing every single Brenner still alive.
  • The Western: A notable example in that it's filmed and set in Austria, not America. Greider is of Austrian descent and speaks fluent German, but he grew up in Texas. The film itself also toys for a while with the concept of taking place in the Wild West and it becomes clear it really is set in Alps rather than being extensive case of California Doubling only after a while.
  • Villains Want Mercy: The most unstable and violent Brenner brother cries like a baby during the duel with Greider.
  • Wham Line:
    Old Brenner: And my children?
    Greider: Dead. All of them.
    Old Brenner: Your brothers.
  • Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: Hand-waved that the Brenner brothers could try to rush Greider or hurt Luzi when he had them all at the gunpoint. Why he didn't after getting some distance is a mystery.
  • You Killed My Father: They crucified him, actually. And they raped his mother. Subverted, however, in that the man they killed was merely his mother's husband: his real father is the Brenner patriarch.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Greider uses the hunting lodge of the second brother he killed as his hideout. It's especially notable, because nobody checked there until he left tracks to it.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Greider kills all the Brenner brothers and returns to the village to regroup... and gets cold-cocked from behind by the blacksmith, who was on the Brenners' side the whole time.