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2000’s “Bruiser” comes to us from horror master George A. Romero, significantly being his last effort before the long awaited “Land of the Dead” in late 2005. Romero has never been the most prolific of directors (prior to “Bruiser”, his last effort was the Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Half” in 1993), and so any release of a film by Romero is an event of some interest. The film itself is a revenge thriller, a fact which may make the hearts of horror fans sink, as although Romero’s pedigree as a director is unquestioned, this sub-genre is fairly limited in scope, and the prospect of yet another film about a man stalking those who have wronged him is less than inspiring. Thankfully, though the plot does indeed follow the tried and tested revenge structure, Romero, who also wrote the script, weaves a far more complex web than the initial premise suggests, and “Bruiser”, whilst not a classic, is a worthwhile slice of violent nihilism.
The film centers on Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng, a British actor who starred as Mr. Hyde in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), a weakling of a man who lives his life in the shadow of others. A perennial nice guy, Henry works at the fashion magazine ‘Bruiser’, where he is belittled and bullied by his flamboyant, sleazy boss Milo Styles (played by reliable character actor Peter Stormare, last seen as Satan in the awful “Constantine”). Henry’s home life is little better, with his hate-filled, promiscuous wife Janine berating him every time he enters their half-finished house.
Things turn even worse for Henry when it becomes obvious that his best friend is stealing his money through an investment scam. One morning, Henry awakes to find that his face has quite inexplicably been replaced with a blank white mask. Understandably, this seriously unhinges his mind, and inspires him to set things right with his life by murdering those who have trespassed against him.
Although it has an overly familiar plot, “Bruiser” is actually an engaging and fascinating film, both in terms of theme and visuals. The search for identity is always compelling, especially when played out in such a dramatic, violent manner as it is here. This has long been a recurring interest of Romero’s, and one which he has tackled in several of his previous films, such as “Martin” and “Monkey Shines”. Though “Bruiser” contains some dark humor, Romero sets the players in motion with his usual nihilistic view of society and the world in general, effectively playing upon the rage inherent in the painful fact that central protagonist Henry is a powerless nobody, a man who will leave no mark on the world when he dies. His blank face of a mask is an effective reflection of his inner self, a man whose life has been defined by the manipulations of others.
Since Henry never truly descends into madness, his quest is all the more involving, and we feel for him as his character gradually takes form through the film, shaped and defined by his increasingly violent actions. Indeed, in the context of the narrative, the character’s actions are quite logical, and every killing breaks another link in the chains which hold him. Through this, Romero makes the depressing statement that in this vicious, cutthroat modern world, sometimes the only way a person can carve out their own identity is through violence.
Although there is no real suspense in the film, and it is not horror in the strictest sense, Romero successfully crafts a deeply unsettling atmosphere, and there are a number of original, almost art house touches which help to set the film apart from similar fare. Though Henry’s character does lean more towards a traditional ‘Phantom of the Opera’ character near the end, the overall impression left with the viewer is one of sadness. This is not a comic book style revenge film, and though Henry does free himself from his oppressors, the effects upon his psyche are questionable, and it is clear that such freedom comes with a heavy cost.
Romero’s visual flair is evident throughout “Bruiser”, particularly in scenes which involve the mask, with some wonderful imagery involving its blank visage. This device quite nicely reflects the film’s themes, as well as adding a real edge to the well-staged murder scenes, during which Romero liberally lets the blood fly, painting Rorschach like patterns on the main character’s face.
Unfortunately “Bruiser” is by no means a perfect film, and the main fault lies with the pacing. Although there are a number of murder scenes, these are separated by a great deal of ponderous talk, most of which serves only to slow the film down. This also means that the film suffers from several dull stretches where very little actually happens.
Fans of Romero expecting “Day of the Dead”-style splatter will doubtless be disappointed, as although “Bruiser” is an undeniably violent film, there is none of the carnage for which the director has been known in the past. However, this restraint does lend the killings a greater impact and tends to focus on the character’s anger more than its visceral effects. This approach also gives the film a more realistic, gritty feel which would certainly have been compromised by the inclusion of excessive gore.
George A. Romero (director) / George A. Romero (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Flemyng …. Henry Creedlow
Peter Stormare …. Milo Styles
Leslie Hope …. Rosemary Newley
Nina Garbiras …. Janine Creedlow
Andrew Tarbet …. James Larson