Sunday, October 3, 2021

Dog Valley Review: A Documentary That Looks At Justice For A Terrible Crime

Release date: October 1, 2021
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Dave Lindsay
Writer: Chad Anderson

Dog Valley is a feature-length documentary film about the 1988 kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of gay college student, Gordon Church. Set in a rural Mormon community in Southern Utah, Dog Valley examines one of the most brutal hate crimes in the United States. It explores the life of the victim and his legacy, and delves into the minds of the killers, Michael Archuleta and Lance Wood. It also shows the crimes' impact on the community and modern-day hate crimes legislation.

Dog Valley is part documentary, part recreation.  The recreation aspects are simply to visualize the fateful night, and do help to give some context to what happens.  It is similar to how an unsolved mysteries recreation looks, with actors portraying the individuals involved to give you an overall idea of what happened.  The overall situation was horrific and the recreation brings it to life in a sad and terrible way.  It’s not a graphic recreation, but it does help to put the situation into perspective.

Dog Valley also looks into the investigation and trial of this horrible crime.  And I like that it had opinions and discussions from lots of different people.  The documentary doesn’t focus on only the family of the victim; you get a discussion from the family of the perpetrators as well as investigating individuals and attorneys.  It provides a good mix of opinions and viewpoints, and some of them are quite different than what you would expect.  It’s a nice aspect so that the opinions aren’t only one sided; the crime itself is pretty cut and dry but hearing the opinions from people who knew them was an eye opening.

Dog Valley also looks at prejudice in more ways than you would expect.  The crime was a hate crime but then it also looks at the disparity in punishments for the perpetrators.  There are very different racial and social disparities between the two assailants, and Dog Valley asks the questions of why did their punishment diverge so much?  And then looks at what happened legislatively after this heinous crime.  Gordon’s death prompted important legislative change that took far too long, but finally turned the wheels of justice.  However, although I enjoyed the documentary, it felt like it was a little longer than needed.  It was an interesting endeavor, but one that feels like it could have been shortened for brevity.  

Dog Valley uses a terrible crime to tell a story about justice and change; it looks at both the incident and the aftermath with discussion from those that knew the victim and the perpetrators.

Rent it.

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Dog Valley is in select theaters and on VOD on October 1, 2021.  

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