All his life Henry has been a nice guy. The man who lives to turn the other cheek. But things are about to change. Betrayed by an unfaithful wife, belittled by an overbearing boss and cheated out of a fortune by his best friend. Henry has been pushed to the edge of sanity. Stripped of everything including his identity, Henry wakes into a nightmare world where he has been left without a face. In a bloody rampage of revenge, Henry sets out to destroy those who have betrayed him. Written and directed by horror legend George Romero, comes Bruiser… the blood curdling tale of how far a normal man would go to regain what others have taken.
‘Bruiser’ is a lesser-known film by George Romero. Hardly surprising: not only was it low-budget but, for whatever reason, the producers decided against releasing it on the big screen and sent it to its death, straight-to-video. Frankly, I think that it’s needlessly maligned, because I’ve seen many duds hit the silver screen with a massive thud. ‘Bruiser’, while hardly a masterpiece deserved better.
For starters, I love the premise: what happens when a person is driven to the edge by societal pressures to perform and succeed – but keeps coming up short?
At first glance, Henry Creedlow seems to have it all: a high-paced job, a gorgeous girlfriend, massive investments and a brand new upscale house. Except that his job is super high-stress, his girlfriend is dissatisfied and über high-maintenance, his investments aren’t doing so well, and construction on his house isn’t fully complete.
With pressure mounting from a manic boss, demanding girlfriend, spiralling financial strain and vanishing dreams, Henry starts to wonder about the meaning of it all. He worries about keeping all the pieces together and discovers that he’s not alone: radio call-in shows are starting to feature unhappy, sometimes suicidal, individuals also unable to cope with their lives.
So what happens when all the balls he’s juggling fall to the floor? What happens when he begins to believe that he’s been short-changed by the people around him, the people he thought cared about him, that he thought he could trust? Well, Henry gets mad. And he gets even, too.
After going a little mad first.
You see, Henry wakes up one morning with a bizarre, faceless mask glued to his face – and he can’t get it off. Not only does this twist his mind in strange ways, it also provides him with some sort of moral cover – with this mask on, he feels more capable of unleashing the pent-up rage that has been tearing him up inside.
The problem with a leading man with no face is apparent: how does he express himself? How does he emote? In the case of films such as ‘Halloween’ or ‘Friday the Thirteenth’, their lack of emotion is a strong point: it permits them to be mysterious and sinister – when you don’t know what your assailant wants or who they are, it’s likely to be terrifying.
However, the mask used in this film is extremely expressive. It’s faceless, but it is supple enough to translate the actor’s emotions somewhat. Thankfully, Jason Flemyng is good enough to pull it off, because his character needs to interact with others and it would be unpleasant if he were limited in his ability to communicate.
It’s not a masterful performance, but it does stand out – especially since many of the secondary actors are not terribly good. Peter Stormare, who plays his boss, is agonizing to watch; he descends into the lowest pits of Hell with Keitel and Pacino’s worst moments (I could do with a few less shouters in Hollywood; they may think it’s “intense”, but I can’t help but imagine that they’re too coked up to notice how debilitating their performance is).
As far as the production goes, it’s low budget and it shows. It shows in the sets, the look of the picture, the choice of actors and.. bizarrely enough, the quality of the editing. Since Romero edits his own films, does ‘Bruiser’ shine a spotlight on his (lack of) skill, or is it all due to a supremely low budget? I couldn’t help but wonder, because I know he can do better. So what happened here?
All in all, ‘Bruiser’ may not be a remarkable film, but I do enjoy a good revenge story. Throw in a weird, but minor, horror element and I was fascinated throughout. I’m grateful that the lead actor was captivating enough to carry us through the proceedings, otherwise it may have stumbled into redundancy. But, as it stands, ‘Bruiser’ was entertaining enough – warts and all.