Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Scene - Dredd

Written by: Tom Blaich


Violence can be abrupt, and horrible, and graphic, but at the same time, it can be oddly beautiful. 2012’s
Dredd adds its own take on the action genre through its highly-stylized depiction of violence that is at once horrific yet also strangely beautiful. The titular Dredd is taking along a new recruit onto a mission for her to prove herself before she is otherwise forced out of the judge’s academy. She is our surrogate throughout the film, the naïve lens through which we can start to interpret the horrors that we see.

The movie opens by introducing us to the world of Mega-City One, crime ridden Mega-Blocks littering the skylines as Dredd zooms after a van full of criminals. Here we see the slow motion in action for the first time with the new street drug “Slo-Mo” that slows the perception of time for the user and supersaturates the world around us. Here we see just how “effective” Dredd can be. He walks by wounded and dead civilians and calmly kills a man holding a hostage in front of him, a grim pun accompanying the burning gunshot.

Going into the block, we know just what he is capable of, and the rookie besides him is there to capture our reaction. You see, Peach Trees, the Mega-Block that this movie takes place in, has a bit of a drug problem, and the calm day was shattered by three skinned and bloody bodies slammed into the floor in the middle of a crowd of people. It is gruesome. It is ugly. But it is the violence that we are used to seeing in our action movies, and because of that it has lost some of its impact. It is shocking when the first body hits, because we don’t know when it will happen, but it does more to set up our villain, the ruthless Ma Ma and her equally sadistic henchman Kay than it does to disgust us.

We think that we are prepared for what will come next based off of this, but as Dredd says, “You don’t look ready.”

Dredd and Anderson stand outside of a drug den. A small explosion goes off and time slows to a crawl. Colors saturate as we see every detail of the lock being ripped apart by the force of the blast screws arcing gently through the air. Eyes widen slowly as smoke drifts in front of them. We see a guard standing in front of the door, shirt hanging open and shotgun grasped in his hands.

The slowed down audio is haunting as we can watch the shockwaves push at his stomach, deforming it inwards, threatening to rip and tear it apart in a flash of gore. You almost wait for the splash of blood to come, but it never does. He is pushed across frame, and as he reaches the edge, the camera cuts to view his body face on, flying backwards through the air. The room is full of gently sparkling dust and a thin sheen of smoke covers the right half of the screen. On the left we watch a pair of gloved hands as they slowly raise, grasping a now familiar handgun between them. Dredd’s gun.

This is the moment that we always wait for. The violence, the splashes of blood and gore, the bodies and spent shell casings littering the floor. The buildup is almost pornographic as it blatantly caters to us. Sure, violence can be scary and sudden, but look how sexy and stylish it can be. Revel in the bloodbath like we always do.

We cut across the room again to establish position before its back to Dredd. The shot seems to zoom back to normal speed, all beauty lost. His gun bucks rapidly, gray and washed out, and we cut to a front shot of a tattooed man raising a pistol. His skin almost glows before a bullet pokes through one of his cheeks and then out the back of his head, leaving a gentle cloud of bright red viscera in his wake, spraying blood from between his lips. He twists away slowly, almost graceful as his face contorts into a mask of pain.

Then it is back to Dredd, colorless and grey. His gun spits again and this time a shirtless man near a wall takes a bullet to the stomach. Blood geysers out and we see the shell crash through the wall behind him and into a set of glass bottles, leaving only sparks and dust in its wake as his stomach ripples from the force of the shot. It is a veritable pyrotechnic show of action. We see pain on the man’s face, but we don’t see him fall.

The camera cuts to a young man raising a pistol towards Dredd. We start behind his shoulder and it almost feels that we are the one’s raising that gun. But it is not fast enough. We see Dredd turning at the same time before the camera cuts to his face, the man with the gun reflected in his black, emotionless visor. We get a close up as the barrel of the gun spits fire and a bullet flies out, tearing through the man’s face, carrying a trail of blood in its wake. His cheek contorts and tears into a crater of gore, spraying fat globules of blood in every direction. We can see the bruised and torn flesh hanging in the air gracefully as time crawls along.

Then it is to Cassandra’s face in shock. She is us, and as time slowly returns to normal, we can process. We should be disgusted and shocked as she is, but instead we are fascinated. It is explicit, but it is more engaging than horrifying. Here, violence is beautiful while being terrible. It is the end-point of action violence, of murder being a spectacle. Not only does the action look cool, but so does the result. It intentionally loses its visceral emotional impact and in the same moment it aims a commentary at us. It is a horrifying world where everyone lives side by side with terrible violence, grown to see these sadistic gangs as the norm, much as we see the terrible levels of violence in our media as normal.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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