I’ll give Lawrence Roeck credit, at least he didn’t reveal the twist to his new film Diablo in its last few minutes. Usually when a major twist is saved until the very end of a film, it comes across as a desperate attempt to engrave itself into its audience’s memory via blatant shock value. Instead, Roeck gives his twist about 20 minutes to marinate in our minds, letting us come to terms with it as the film marches to its inevitably bloody conclusion.
Now I get to indulge in one of the true joys of film criticism: explaining the plot of a film largely dependent on a twist without actually giving anything away. Today my work feels cut out for me. The film centers on Jackson, a Union Army veteran living in Colorado Territory in 1872. Having participated in Sherman’s March to the Atlantic, Jackson is a man molded by, transformed by, driven by death. When his wife gets kidnapped by Mexican thieves, Jackson embarks on a The Searchers-type quest to save her. As he travels, a steady river of blood and bodies spouts out behind him. He may not always pull the trigger, but death follows nonetheless.
Mostly death comes at the hands of highwayman Ezra. Played by Walton Goggins at his most gleefully, deliciously horrific — perhaps practicing for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight?—Ezra drifts into and out of Jackson’s path like a ghastly specter, toying with him, mocking him and killing indiscriminately. Largely thanks to Goggins’ performance, these scenes carry the film until the third act when the twist comes and rearranges the status quo. Astute readers can probably already guess the twist from what I’ve already written, so for the film’s sake I won’t say anything else about the story.
And now, a confession. Originally, I didn’t like the twist ending. I steamed and raged and prepared myself to give this film a significantly lower score. I thought the twist cheap, overdone and poorly telegraphed. But as the days passed, I found myself rewatching the film in my head. Eventually I realized that my initial impression was wrong. Folks, Diablo earns its twist. In hindsight, there were plenty of hints and suggestions that things were not as they originally seemed. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. When you watch Diablo, pay close attention to everything. And spare a prayer for the Devil while you’re at it.