Violence is a tricky tool for a storyteller in any medium. If it is used poorly, it can damage the work’s overall structural integrity, derail a character’s prior narrative arc and repel the audience from continuing with the piece. If it is used skillfully, it can further both character and plot arcs, and draw the audience in with the developments it brings.
Violence, when used well, is a big deal for a narrative. It permanently changes the path the story is on, and colors everything that comes before and after it. When it comes to well-used violence in film, think of the titular monster’s first attack in The Thing, the Basterds’ interrogation of their prisoners in Inglourious Basterds, or the massacre of the Baxters in A Fistful of Dollars.
The dog’s transformation and assault introduces The Thing’s primary antagonist and its modus operandi, which in turn sets up the paranoia that pervades the film and gives it a fair part of its greatness. The Basterds’ interrogation and subsequent execution of the German sergeant both proves the truth of Aldo Raine’s earlier declaration of intent and justifies the Nazi High Command’s fear of their operation. And the Rojo’s gleeful mass murder of the entire Baxter clan both deconstructs the image of the backwater town torn apart by two equally powerful gangs with the entirely one-sided fight and offers a few clues to the Man With No Name’s character as he watches from the coffin where he hides.
All three of those moments make sense in the context of their respective films and add to their narratives in positive ways. They are testaments to both the power of violence as a storytelling tool and the skill of the writers, directors and actors who were able to apply it with the discipline it requires.
What follows is a tribute to five films from this year that were able to do the same. The specific type of violence may vary, but all five films have at least one moment where the content depicted has the impact it actually should. They are not casual, they are not dumbed down to make their consumption easier or less unsettling and they have actual relevance to their overall narratives. As the films discussed here are all from this year, some spoiler warnings apply from here on in.
With that in mind, let’s begin.
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