"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
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.
"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.