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27 March 2014 @ 04:16 pm
TV Review: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series  
A tale of bank robbers and Mayan vampires that might be an allegory about families dealing with mental illness.

I saw the film From Dusk Till Dawn years ago when it first came out in theaters and since then haven’t rewatched it or any of the subsequent sequels. As such, I can’t really swear by how similar or different the miniseries is from the film, but since director Robert Rodriguez is responsible for both, I do see some superficial similarities.

The story is pretty much identical, featuring the Gecko brothers who are on the run after robbing a bank and trying to make it across the border to Mexico. On their journey toward freedom and riches, they rack up a substantial body count and take a vacationing family hostage. From what I remember of the film, the first half is devoted to the set up which ends with everyone at a bar on the border. Unfortunately for the Geckos and the Fuller family, all the patrons and workers are also bloodthirsty vampires. The second half of the film is nothing but the humans trying to stay alive.

The miniseries is taking the two hour film and stretching it out to 10 hours. At first I was skeptical but having watched three episodes, I’m rather intrigued with what Rodriguez has done with the extra time. The story is more or less the same but many more scenes get devoted to character insight which I think is ultimately the crux of what will make this story work. In the film the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richie were played by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, respectively. We didn’t learn that much about them other than their actions in the film which were mostly violent and cruel. And in Richie’s case, violent and slightly psychotic. It didn’t leave me with much sympathy for them so when the vampires descended, I wasn’t exactly rooting for them to survive.

Three episodes into the miniseries and we already have a lot more crucial information about the characters. Firstly, Rodriguez has changed a little the set up for Richie’s character. In the film, it seemed sort of clear that Richie was mentally unstable, leading to bouts of violence and paranoia. In the miniseries, it’s a little more complicated as the main vampire queen of the story is telepathically communicating with Richie at various intervals. It’s unclear at this point if Richie was already suffering from paranoid delusions before she started whispering to him or if her whisperings are his only symptoms. But setting aside the question of Richie’s sanity for a minute, what is currently selling me on this series is watching Seth trying to make sense of what’s happening to his brother.

I never could understand from watching the film why Seth tolerated so much of Richie’s crazy. I assumed it was because they’d only had each other growing up so there was a bond there. But I don’t recall anything in the script or the acting that really supported why Seth, being as cutthroat as he is in his own right, felt the need to take his incredibly unreliable, unstable brother on a bank job. What the series is so far doing is flushing out this relationship.

The show makes it clear that Richie (now played with significantly better acting by Zane Holtz) was once the brains of their operation with a rather formidable intellect. When we meet him, he’s become that guy living in the woods. Again, it isn’t clear if this happened to him naturally or because he was starting to become plagued by vision courtesy of the vampire queen. In episode 3, Seth (DJ Cotrona) shares a story about how as kids their father always kept Richie “on his toes” which Seth accounts for why his brother grew up to become a mastermind. I initially took this to mean that their father was abusive toward Richie but it actually turns out their father favored beating up Seth. Because of this, Richie spent a large portion of their childhood coming up with ways to keep their father off Seth.  That one story put into context so many things. Particularly why Seth remains so adamant that his brother is not going crazy despite all evidence to the contrary. It was Richie’s intellect that kept them safe and Seth can’t believe it’s been compromised beyond repair.

It’s also strangely realistic to me just how frightened Seth is by what’s happening to his brother. He does a good job of playing it cool through lots of denial but it’s clear he finds the reversal of their roles unsettling. I never contemplated while watching the film version that being the responsible, stable one was not a role Seth had always played. But in the series, he was in fact the protected one when growing up and Richie was the protector. His floundering and refusal to acknowledge things as they are in the face of his brother’s decompensation is almost exactly what I’ve personally seen when I’ve worked with family members of people who have developed a serious mental illness.

All this is not to say the Geckos aren’t terrible people. They are. But I feel like I understand them a little better which may make all the difference for me once they reach the vampire lair. I’m also super curious now if everyone who survived or didn’t survive the film will have the same fates given that the show’s already been greenlit for a second season.