Top critical review
Fun pop-culture trash-mish-mash.
on 14 November 2012
This review will contain spoilers. With a movie like this one that's pretty much unavoidable (don't ask why because that would itself require a spoiler!) So, if you've never seen From Dusk till Dawn, and know nothing about it, but are wondering whether to watch it or not, then the answer is yes. Yes, you should give it a watch, so long as you have no problems with mindless violence. That's all you really need to know.
If you want to hear more about the film -what it's about, why I gave it the rating that I have done etc'- then feel free to read on. Like I said though, there will be spoilers.
The Gecko brothers (played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) are a couple of badass criminals who are on the run from the law, and racing to cross the border into Mexico. Once they reach Mexico -if they reach Mexico at all!- they plan to make a rendezvous which will set them up for life, and keep them safe from the police. In order to reach their destination the brothers are going to need a couple of hostages though.
The brothers spot an RV at the motel they're staying at. The owner of the RV is Jacob -a former preacher- who is travelling with his son and daughter (the latter is played by Juliette Lewis). The family is taken hostage, but the father agrees to help the brothers get over the border to their destination, if he and his family can go free at the end of the journey.
After a very intense passage through the border patrol, they're all relieved to have made it into Mexico. They reach the rendezvous location (a raunchy and out of the way club that's open from dusk until dawn); from there it should be smooth sailing. All they need to do is kick back for the night, have a few drinks, and wait for morning to come, so that the meeting can be held, and everyone can finally part ways.
...and here's where the SPOILER comes in, because this is the point in the film where an intense crime thriller abruptly transforms into a trashy horror-comedy adventure movie, featuring vampires and tons of OTT gore. This is what the film is really all about, but you wouldn't know it from the first 40-odd minutes. From this point on the movie is a balls to the wall battle between the humans who have unknowingly stumbled into a den of bloodsuckers, and the undead monsters themselves. Aside from the recognizable names that I've already mentioned, the film also stars Fred Williamson and Tom Savini so horror and cult exploitation fans should be overjoyed. Oh, and they found an excuse to have Salma Hayek do a sexy dance too. Good stuff.
Now, with that plot synopsis out of the way, let's get onto what the movie is like and about. This is going to get a little pretentious. I apologize in advance.
As I've just mentioned, the film includes a couple of actors who have primarily worked in horror and/or action-exploitation films. That's not a coincidence either, because this film is one big paean to pop-culture at its most irresponsible and trashy. Of course, there are plenty of films that embrace cheap thrills (and this movie isn't shy about referencing them), but this film seems to go even further by overtly throwing important moral issues our way, but deliberately refusing to acknowledge or address them. The cruelty and amorality of Seth Gecko remains consistent, with no redemption in sight. And yet, we're asked to ignore that and enjoy the character anyway.
Or consider this: the final scene of the film is a reveal that shows the back of the club. We can see -for the very first time- that behind the façade is a huge and ancient Aztec temple. Now, consider that one of the more significant plotpoints in the film is the former preacher finding his faith and using his position to help battle the vampires (he blesses tap water in order to make it holy, thereby making it destructive to the vampires). So, we've established that the vampires are affected by Christian paraphernalia (unlike many secularized vampires that have started appearing in films over the last few decades). We also know that the vampires are Aztec in origin, but in this case the Aztec religion/culture is not set up as an alternative to Christian civilization, but rather is subsumed under the exclusivist principles laid down by the Christians. The Aztecs aren't judged on their own terms, but rather by the standards of the righteous Christians, who are indeed on the side of the true God. As such, the Aztec religion/culture is equated with Satanism. This goes some way towards explaining why the vampires use seduction to draw in their victims - Christianity has always had a problem with women and the temptations that they represent. It is, after all, the Christian religion that gave us the custom of locking oneself away in a monastery or cloister, so as to escape the "sins of the flesh." Also note the reptilian appearance of Hayek's character - in this moment the seductress becomes the image of the serpent of Eden. Eve and Satan are one and the same, conflated and united to tempt wayward Christian men into damnation.
Don't misunderstand me though, this film is not a serious or overt deconstruction of the Christian faith or its history of exclusion and domination; no, FDTD is a cynical and amoral popcorn flick that recklessly toys with these ideas, and occasionally admits to doing precisely that, but never invites us to think too much about anything.
The film could very easily be interpreted as implicitly defending the conquest of the Aztecs by the Catholic Conquistadors. Does the film address -even in passing- this issue of cultural and political imperialism? Nope. Not even allegorically. That's the seduction of pop culture, and exploitation cinema in particular. We're shown the immoral, and yet we're encouraged to embrace it on aesthetic terms, rather than to resist it on moral grounds. "Who cares about the racist subtext? Killing vampires with a pool cue is AWESOME!"
I said before that there are plenty of films that take this irresponsible and unapologetic approach to their subject, but that this film seems unusually intent on drawing our attention to the fact. Considering that last scene once again, I can't help but see it as being akin to a punchline. It's almost like the director is saying "Guess what? We're all racists! You know what else? We don't even care!" In the end, all of the moral and philosophical issues of the film are subsumed under the imperialism of entertainment, and converted into cheap thrills. But it's only in that final scene that we realize the full extent and implications of that fact.
So, pompous over-analyzing aside, is the movie any good? Sure. It's a pretty entertaining horror-comedy-action flick that's definitely worth a watch.