Review: 'The Valley'

Shot in Silicon Valley, this indie project confirms what we already know—money can't buy happiness
Saila Kariat's 'The Valley' shows Defying Augury Saila Kariat's 'The Valley' shows the aftermath of a student's suicide.

High-tech CEO Neal Kumar (Alyy Khan) is unveiling a new program called Augur, that augurs (predicts) the future behavior of people based on their past. Forearmed with such technology, he can't foresee the ruin of his family, a disaster than will leave him where the film begins: alone on a seaside cliff with a pistol.

The Valley, by local director Saila Kariat, shares the concerns of Atom Egoyan's great The Sweet Hereafter: Its center is the case of a methodical man who, despite his plans, is unable to heal the irreparable breach in his family. Neal's daughter Maya (Agneeta Thacker) plunged to her death from a dorm window, and this tragedy forced the exec to distract his blinkered gaze from the company that made him wealthy. This distraction has consequences. Neal is only middle-aged, but in his industry, that counts as old.

The father tries to hunt down the cause of his daughter's misery and finds only inconclusive clues. Maya was an underachiever, unlike her more accomplished older sister Monica (Salma Khan); her grades were slipping, and she had a brush with drunken partiers that might have led to something worse after she passed out. Finally, she was more drawn to literature than tech. As the daughter of a first-generation immigrant, this taste for fiction would be hard to forgive.

The seriously meta-title is deserved, and that's not just because of the extensive locations from San Jose's Japantown to SJSU, where Kariat studied film. (The Valley played at Cinequest 2017). Like Mira Nair's The Namesake and Around the Bay by Alejandro Adams, The Valley gets at the angst of high tech with an almost burning acuteness, with the constant work and the price of it as alienation at home.

Sometimes Kariat nails this grimness, as at a cheerless Christmas party at the Kumars' place in Atherton. Sometimes Kariat spells it out too clearly, as in a dining scene at Saratoga's The Plumed Horse, where the conversation between husband and wife becomes so obvious that, unlike the rest of the movie, there's nothing to guess at.

Most frequently she directs with sensitivity. And Kariat has a fine team of international actors, from Suchitra Pillai as Neal's neglected wife, Roopa, to longtime Western movie actor Barry Corbin as an executive who warns Neal that he's losing ground at the company. In The Valley, Kariat demonstrates that the cost of success can be just as high as the price of failure.

The Valley
R; 93 Mins.
Jun 11-12
Aquarius, Palo Alto

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