By the usual “rules” of filmmaking, From Dusk Till Dawn is a sloppy, incoherent failure. Quentin Tarantino’s script, after an hour constructing relationships between the Gecko brothers (George Clooney, Tarantino as a creepy rapist[a role he seems oddly suited for with his doughy face and piercing, dead-eyed gaze]) and the Fullers (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu), nukes any semblance of plot with constant swerves. Keitel’s crisis of faith is resolved anticlimactically, Tarantino’s lusting after teen Lewis is discarded when he turns vampire. Tarantino and director Robert Rodriguez even set up a trio of memorable villains (Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin), only to dispatch them in favor of crowds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer steals and CG bats. It isn’t just anti-arc, it’s anti-pacing.
Surprisingly, this works to the film’s advantage. Rodriguez/Tarantino consistently stress immediacy. Everyone constantly has to adapt to unexpected developments with snap decisions–first the Fullers to the Geckos, then all of them to the vampires which populate the Titty Twister bar. Second guessing, explanation, and group dynamics only lead to complications or death: Tarantino starting an argument with Clooney at the Mexican border almost gets them caught; one character describing a Vietnam incident distracts everyone from realizing someone else has turned. Clooney, as Seth, and Lewis, as Kate, seem to have internalized this. Both are quick to react while analyzing their situations. They shoulder family demons–Tarantino’s depravity, Keitel’s trauma in the face of his wife’s death, Liu’s inability to handle his adopted father’s pain–because they have to. The film becomes an endurance test, tossing relentless chaos at these two and seeing what’s left when the credits roll.