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‘From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series’ – Review

Time to take a look at another online series now, this time courtesy of Netflix (although I understand it will receive a TV transmission in some territories). ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ as any genre fan will know was a fairly successful 1996 film from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Though many critics were baffled by the movie’s abrupt midway shift from fugitive thriller to tongue-in-cheek vampire bloodbath, it achieved something of a cult following and grossed enough profit (a fairly modest $5 million) to warrant a couple of mostly forgotten straight-to-video sequels. Now Rodriguez has chosen to return to ‘ From Dusk Till Dawn’ in episodic form serving as executive producer of the series and director of the pilot. So is there still more life to be drained from the franchise?

It’s clear from the show’s opening moments that this is to be a revisiting of the film’s original story rather than a spin-off or sequel. This is of course a mixed blessing – while not necessitating any previous knowledge of the series increases the show’s chances of reaching a wide audience, it is likely to lead to unfavorable comparisons from fans of the original, or worse still, boredom at seeing a familiar story re-told at a much more leisurely pace. In the press release and interviews leading up to the show’s debut Rodriguez has stated his intention to expand upon and more fully explore both the characters and concept. In the pilot it seems that notion has been taken to the extreme, with the film’s first 10 minutes or so literally being spread out over a 45 minute running time.

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Of course George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino were never likely to reprise their roles for the series – Clooney is currently filming sci-fi mystery ‘Tomorrowland’, while Tarantino is presumably still sulking about ‘The Hateful Eight’ and throwing darts at photos of his once-trusted friends. So instead here we follow the permanently bickering Gecko brothers,  Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz) as they flee the scene of a bank robbery.

Hot on their trail are Sheriff Earl McGraw (Don Johnson) and his young partner (Jesse Garcia), and when the Gecko brothers stop off at a liquor store, chaos soon erupts as the erratic and seemingly unhinged Richie, in an undisguised attempt at some foreshadowing, begins experiencing disturbing visions warning him of trouble on the horizon. It’s difficult to go much further into the plot without including spoilers, since the aforementioned incidents account for around three quarters of the first episode’s run-time. That fact alone should be a decent indicator as to whether or not ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ will hold your attention or test your patience.

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Cotrona and Holtz slip into their roles quite well. In what is sure to be a divisive move, the pair seem to have been chosen for their slight physical resemblance to their predecessors, and uncanny ability to ape Clooney and Tarantino’s deliveries rather than attempting entirely new approaches to either character. To a newcomer this will likely be inconsequential, but for existing fans who suspect the series of being a cheap rehash it will only add fuel to their argument. Of the supporting cast in episode one, Don Johnson in particular shines – but don’t get too attached. Wilmer Valderrama (best known as Fez from ‘That ’70s Show’) also features as Don Carlos, the powerful drug lord who the Gecko’s call upon to aid in their escape.

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One of the more immediately noticeable differences in ‘From Dusk Till Dawn”s TV incarnation is the absence of the film’s more cheerfully absurd moments and nods to B-Movie cheese. Here everything is played straight, with a murky atmosphere, scattered flashbacks and deadly serious tone. While this decision is understandable given the current trends in genre programing (which after all probably contributed to this series being commissioned in the first place), it does no favors to the plodding pace of the pilot.

Thankfully much of the pacing issues are gone in the comparatively action-packed (and just released) second episode, in which Richie’s visions intensify as his relationship with his brother deteriorates, we get to see the aforementioned bank robbery and there’s even some brief vampire action. We are also introduced to the troubled Fullers, a religious Southern family who are traveling cross-country following the death of their mother. Importantly, we are given a clear indicator of how their story will converge with the main plot, along with pick-ups for all the loose threads in episode one. In many ways episode two is a big improvement and hints that with patience and tighter pacing ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ will develop into rewarding viewing. Whether or not it will contain enough unique elements and plot twists to escape the shadow of the original however, remains to be seen.