Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012) -- A-

Dredd burrows deeper into its own, implicit nihilism than just about any other film in recent memory. A minimal narrative premise allows for character-driven genre filmmaking - which I thought died with the financial failure of John Carpenter's Escape From LA (1996). Director Pete Travis is here to lead a resurgence. Much like Carpenter, Travis speaks in genre, not about genre. Themes remain bubbling just above the surface and, if not subtle, impressionistic rather than absolute. Think of Dredd not so-much in terms of its premise, which involves Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) locked-down inside drug-kingpin Ma-Ma's (Lena Headey) post-apocalyptic, prison-like apartment complex. Like Gareth Evans's The Raid: Redemption (2012), the shoe-string premise serves as forum for formal and discursive playfulness. For Travis, a synthesizer-heavy score (again recalling Carpenter) and saturated visuals are means for auto-critique - is the hyper-violent Dredd a jest at post-modern filmmaking or should it be lumped in with other, lesser A.D.D. iterations? Fact is, these questions no longer satisfy or, perhaps, matter, which is why Dredd's forceful, abrupt nature seems so startling - terrifying, even. Travis (and veteran screenwriter Alex Garland) suggest no recourse towards redemption, of any sort. Dredd's efforts, with his rigid adherence to law ("your sentence: death") in a milieu of chaos, is but a drop in the bucket, a fleeting gesture towards Romantic civilization, lost. Travis's film kicks Cabin in the Woods in the teeth - it sees hopelessness not as aesthetic, empty theoretical fodder, but a means of Apocalyptic Laughter, taking the loss of ethos in-stride. As such, there is a considerable amount of genre pleasure to be taken in the slow motion sequences (meant to express the effects of the film's drug of conflict, appropriately called SLO-MO), and when Dredd finally meets Ma-Ma at the top, Travis doesn't belabor the point - death is swift but painful, vengeful but neat. Order and pleasure are consistently at odds - jouissance both in-and-outside-of affect.


  1. Good review Clayton. Very fun and bloody, which makes it all the more entertaining and I can only wonder what they will do with the next installments of this series, if they can get there.

  2. Yes, unfortunately the box office numbers don't suggest forthcoming entries...