Movie Review - The Valley (Portland Film Festival)

Earlier this year, Netflix released 13 Reasons Why, a series dealing with the suicide of a teenage girl. This film also deals with the suicide of a teenage girl, but it does the subject matter here extremely better and in shorter time. The movie basically takes its male protagonist down a literal guilt trip too but it doesn't do so in such a blunt way. It doesn't play an actual blame game. It doesn't intimate that suicide is a solution to anything. It results in its character's self-examination without feeling forced or contrived. There is much more sensitivity here, a quiet and steadiness to it that makes the movie feel less abrasive. It's certainly not as gimmicky as that Netflix series either.

Alyy Khan stars as Neal Kumar, the CEO of Virtually You, a tech company based in Silicon Valley. Khan is Pakistani but his character Neal might be from India and Hindi. He's married and has two daughters, both in college. He's also rich. Apparently, Virtually You isn't his first company. He's had a couple of others, which he sold for a fortune. As a result, he lives in Atherton, California, which lies between San Francisco and San Jose, and is considered the wealthiest city in the United States, ranked higher than Beverly Hills. If his address though weren't a clue, the fact that Neal drives a BMW and lives in a veritable mansion might be an indication of his status.

The value of that wealth is called into question when Neal learns that his youngest daughter named Maya, played by Agneeta Thacker, has committed suicide. It's never said how Maya killed herself, but a very haunting shot inside her dorm room hints at the way she might have done it. A depression sets over the family, but Neal becomes obsessed with figuring out the cause of Maya's suicide. He does so by basically interrogating everyone in Maya's life, her friends and even his housekeeper. This leads him down a dark path of discovery that does just as much to illuminate things about Maya that Neal didn't know as it does things about himself.

Suchitra Pillai co-stars as Roopa, the wife of Neal. She tries to get Neal to let go of his obsession, to stop him from going down that path. In flashbacks, her treatment of Maya throws her character into doubt. One might see her as a spoiled and stuck-up queen, but Pillai gives a great performance to show there is more layers to this woman existing inside this wealthy, Silicon Valley bubble.

Jake T. Austin (The Fosters) also co-stars as Chris Williams, a college student who mysteriously drops out of school after Maya's death. He might have also been the last person to see Maya alive. He's a suspicious character for sure, but Austin also rides the line in his performance where one isn't convinced how much he may have contributed to the tragedy.

Riding that line is something the movie does fairly well. It understands the impulse that Neal himself has to put the responsibility on one person, so his feelings can be directed at something singular. It makes it easier for people that way to deal with a tragedy like this. It's a little more difficult when the answer is similar to the ending of Murder on the Orient Express, when it's not just one singular thing but in fact multiple things, if not everything all at once. Both this and 13 Reasons Why could be called "Suicide on the Teenager Express." Writer-director Saila Kariat however arrives at that Agatha Christie conclusion in a subtler and more tender fashion, but still very powerfully.

Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.

For more information, go to PortlandFilmFestival.com.

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