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Review: George A. Romero’s Bruiser Devolves Into Anarchy

You would have thought anything directed by George A. Romero would be well known at least to horror fans. But Bruiser seems to have slipped under the radar completely. It seems like this happens a lot with films starring Jason Flemyng. For some reason his films are far more likely to be forgotten or become cult films than to receive the mainstream success they deserve.

Here he plays the lead Henry, a house poor advertising exec loser who is being exploited by his cheating wife, uncaring boss and thieving stock broker friend. After having his sanity pushed to breaking point he wakes up to find his face has been replaced by a blank white mask. Flemyng does a good job acting under such restrictive circumstances. The makeup allows him to express emotions clearly even without eyebrows.

He also does well in the scenes before his transformation as he watches idly while his life erodes and he hallucinates violent revenge. At one point he slips into self-destructive depression and drinks vodka with an olive but no vermouth. Now that is the “cocktail” of a broken man.

The actors do their best with dialogue that at times feels like it was written by someone whose only experience of human interactions is from watching generic cop movies. It gives the characters an alien quality and makes it hard for us to like any of them.

Peter Stormare is a highlight, not just chewing the scenery but humping it as Henry’s sleazeball boss Milo. He gives it his all, even flashing his testicles just for the shock value. He saves any moments of dullness with his over the top caricature of sexually manic excess. The funniest parts of the movie are when his voice goes up in volume.

Despite this the world in which the characters live is pretty grim, perhaps because of the stylish but cold colour palette of muted browns, whites and blues. The tone is also influenced by film noir which unfortunately can make the scenes involving the detectives somewhat bland in contrast to the flashy, ornate scenes of the wealthy characters, in which Romero is allowed to be more creatively expressive.

The set design is fantastic and it compliments Romero’s obsession with marble textures. American Psycho and Dexter owe much to this movie, particularly the opening which they both seem to have ripped off.

Bruiser

Henry often smears the blood of victims on his face in an attempt to regain a sense of identity. But this doesn’t mean Bruiser is a slasher movie. Like 2002’s May it’s much more psychologically reflective and anyone looking for typical stalk and slashings will be disappointed by the long runtime in between the killings.

Despite the fact this is certainly a character piece the third act involving a chaotic costume party/Misfits concert is an insane shift in tone. It’s reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera and the rising tension before the finale of Carrie. It devolves into anarchy but is oddly bloodless. Though there is certainly violence it’s not as graphic as some of the characters deserve.

Romero’s work has often been noted for its satire of modern life, particularly his Dead series. Bruiser has a few things to say about identity, reality, wealth and Howard Stern style radio presenters. But it gets too bogged down in its nightmarish revenge narrative to explore these issues in any real way.