I will always have a soft spot in my heart for From Dusk Till Dawn. The original feature film is one of the few theatrical experiences I’ve had where almost an entire theater emptied out midway through the film. Turns out the audience was on board with the criminality of the opening, and the charismatic performance of George Clooney, but had no idea what to do when the film turned into a gore-filled, vampire-centric horror fest. And I’ll admit, it’s one Hell of a tonal gear shift, but I loved it.
The sequels? I’ve never felt inclined to check them out, honestly. I think I enjoyed the original so much, I was worried that seeing the continuation of the story might dent that admiration a little, especially considering neither Tarantino or Rodriguez directed them. So it is with equal parts anticipation and trepidation that I approached the pilot episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.
Waitaminute, you might be asking, why is Film Threat writing a review about a television show. Honestly, because said episode premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, and while we might not cover television shows, we do cover film festivals and their selections. So, there’s your explanation.
Back to the review at hand, the anticipation here involves the fact that Robert Rodriguez is back in the director’s seat, reimagining his visceral cult classic into an episodic experience. Sure, this isn’t going to be George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Salma Hayek or Quentin Tarantino playing the leads anymore, and it would be unfair to play compare and contrast with the performers who do take on their roles, but if this show had to happen, the one way I’d be inclined to check it out is if Rodriguez was the one in command. At least for the pilot episode, he is, and so I was interested.
And I was not disappointed. The opening episode gives us an extended look at the opening scene of the classic film. In this case, Texas Rangers Earl (Don Johnson) and Freddie (Jesse Garcia) have stopped off at a local convenience store so that Earl can use the restroom. At first, all seems fine and Earl is set to leave, until he gets shot from behind by Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz).
Richie is one half of the violent, bank robbing Gecko Brothers. His brother Seth (D.J. Cotrona), supposedly in charge but constantly cleaning up after the potentially insane Richie, just wants to get the two of them to Mexico, where they can finish their business deal with the enigmatic Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama), and move on with their soon-to-be-stinking-rich lives. Unfortunately, now he’s stuck in a convenience store with two female hostages, a dying clerk and an equally doomed Texas Ranger. Outside, Freddie tries his best to mediate the situation and hopefully save the hostages, and his partner, before it is too late.
As far as the opening to a television series goes, the pilot does what it is supposed to do: offers up some enticing bits to keep you entertained while it drops some mystery into the story to bring you back for more. Richie is constantly seeing and hearing things, but maybe he’s not crazy so much as tormented by an external force. The sides of conflict to come are established as well, as Freddie becomes the embittered opponent to the Gecko Brothers before episode’s end.
The pacing of the pilot alternates between explosive violence and creepy calm, befitting the sequence it portrays. Gun shots sound like cannons going off, and while the violence doesn’t hit the over-the-top bar that some of Rodriguez’s other projects have, it remains imposing. Likewise, while the dialogue doesn’t always have that cleverness that Tarantino put into the original film, it still retains idiosyncracies that make it oddly amusing. Richie has a few humorous moments that showcase his complete lack of a silver tongue, contrasting him that much more with the smooth-talking Seth.
For those of us wondering how this series would work with the original film, it would appear that we’re going to get a first season that will be an expanded extension of that film’s narrative. If they can turn the opening ten minutes of the original feature into a forty-plus minute episode, they can probably make an entire movie last a ten episode season. And that can be a good and a bad thing.
On the good side, I found that the flourishes and expansion of the story allow the show to establish its version of the characters and events. It’s going to be reminiscent of the original, but all its own and hopefully will sustain some momentum all season long. On the not-so-good side, there are moments in this episode where you wish the narrative was progressing more than it does; that hoped-for momentum sputters a bit. For the most part the expansion works, but every once and a while you catch yourself wondering why they’re still in the store (reflecting Richie’s own confusion); you want them to get on with it.
That said, I’m in, and can’t wait to see more episodes of the show. Again, not in a compare-and-contrast with the original way, but because I’m curious where these expanded ideas will take the story overall. While I do know how this ends up, if it sticks close to the film, I like getting more information about the context surrounding it all. Maybe that’ll dull the narrative, maybe it’ll enliven it. So far, it’s got me interested in these characters all over again.