Death Proof is an interesting lesser effort from Quentin Tarantino. It’s noble intentions exist within a cluttered picture, which fundamentally has an identity crisis while also possessing a patronising excessiveness. On the one hand, it wants to embrace the sleaziness and style of a slasher film. It certainly does this to varying levels of success. All of which are conceptual.
For example, the title Death Proof refers to the car which the antagonist- Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) fashions for his primary gimmick and weapon to kill, much like Jason Voorhees and his hockey mask and machete. It is a great contemporary conceptualisation of a slasher villain. However, he is not very frightening, and Tarantino’s attempt at the voyeuristic axioms of the genre do not yield any genuine tension.
One gets the feeling that Tarantino’s usual effortless build up of tension is missing in this picture. Instead, the film feels like the director excitingly attempting to explain how his film evokes slasher films, without realising what make them work in the first place. They are fundamentally engaging because they represent the generational revenge of parents in the sixties who were punishing their adolescent’s new found loose morals. Or in the case of the original, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the teenage characters were getting killed because of their parents’ original sin.
None of this vigorous sub-textual depth exists within a frame of Death Proof. In fact, one can say that it is Tarantino’s least engaging film regarding individual themes and the continued exploration of the self-appointed persona. Tarantino also tries to evoke the sudden, surprising and jarring character and plot machinations of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. However, without the subtext, and the tension this falls apart.
Some of the best aspects of Death Proof come from its second half. Here the characters are better drawn; the conversations crackle with wit and the acting is memorable and lingering. Zoe Bell is a real revelation as a first-time actor with a natural presence and charm. Her stunt work is astonishing and sublime, as she straps herself to the front of a car. The moment provides the best acting moment of the picture. Abernathy Ross (Rosario Dawson) observes Bell’s stunt and the camera focus on Dawson’s face and in those ten seconds, she runs a gambit of emotions from utter fear, admiration and finally unconstrained adrenalised excitement.
The second half of the picture is also commendable because it embraces the strong female character mantra and turns it into a satisfying genre set piece of thrilling stunt work and comeuppance. The sequence in question depicts an exciting chasing between Stuntman Mike and a group of girls in a classic film car. With perfect framing, great point of view of shots and excellent close-ups, the sequence represents one of Tarantino’s most consistently thrilling scenes.