Romero hasn't been able to get a feature film off the ground since 1993's The Dark Half, which is really too bad. He's one of the more distinctive filmmakers working within the horror genre, having made his start with the black-and-white classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That was a pioneer for modern horror as gruesome satire, followed up by the arguably superior Dawn of the Dead (where the zombie invasion was set against the backdrop of a shopping mall). Fans of Romero will be pleased to see him back to his old preoccupations. Bruiser could be viewed as an extension of the identity crisis in Martin, Romero's ambivalent portrait of a young man who may or may not be a vampire.
Bruiser isn't as subtle an allegory as Martin, whose disenfranchised Pittsburgh factory towns were closer to home for Romero, but it's briskly efficient in the early going. Even quite inspired when Henry fantasizes throwing commuters under a train, or blowing his brains out after an early morning shower. The evil daydreams merge into the banality of a single working day, suggesting the thinly veiled aggression of the office drone. Romero also makes full use of Henry's half-finished home. It's pretty broad (Henry's an incomplete human being, y'see) but allows for some strong visual choices. The dread of economic plight found in plastic tarp walls and exposed power tools feels reminiscent of Brad Anderson's similarly themed Session 9 (they'd make a terrific double-bill).
Some may wince at the over-the-top villains, and Peter Stormare does some particularly shameless scenery chewing, but Bruiser functions as a comic book. Watching the bad apples get their comeuppance is meant to be fun in the same way shifty fortune seekers got what was coming to them in Weird Tales. It's a morality play, or a 21st century Brothers Grimm fable. If Bruiser feels a little uneven, it's more because Romero backs himself into the corner of routine hunt 'n' slash set pieces. He's never been able to coordinate straight suspense, proving more adept at escalating dread and visceral gore (though Bruiser is surprisingly mild in its bloodletting). Romero's keen taste for atmosphere keeps the rickety ship afloat, combined with an inspired performance from Flemyng, who invests Henry with sensitivity and depth.
Less enjoyable is the bogged down finale at an elaborate masquerade (odd, since Romero used costume so well in the Dead films). This long sequence feels adrift at sea, spreading focus between the party denizens, pandering shots of the band (crummy lite-metal from The Misfits), an excruciatingly goofy kid running the laser light show, and Henry's rather pedestrian slaying of an arch-nemesis. There's an overreliance on phony looking computer animation, including fake bats swooping overhead and a character getting blasted by a giant laser beam. Yes, a giant laser. It's a comic book device that feels more ludicrous than inspired. And what's with the unforgivably campy epilogue? It's meant to imply that Henry's paleface legacy lives on in the workplace, but cops out with a cheap horror gag. When will frightflicks abandon the useless "surprise" postscript a la A Nightmare on Elm Street and I Know What You Did Last Summer in favor of some real closure?
Bruiser may be a lightweight in the Romero canon, but he's still able to deliver the goods. I'll take his genuine affection for horror iconography over the postmodern smugness of any Scream knock-off. Doomed with a straight-to-video fate, it's unlikely that Bruiser will be the push Romero needs to continue making his maverick blue-collar horror shows. But it's nice to see him working again.
Bruised and bloodied.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 13th February 2000
Distributed by: LionsGate Entertainment
Production compaines: Studio Canal, Barenholtz Production
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: George A. Romero
Screenwriter: George A. Romero
Starring: Jason Flemyng as Henry Creedlow, Peter Stormare as Milo Styles, Leslie Hope as Rosemary Newley, Nina Garbiras as Janine Creedlow, Andrew Tarbet as James Larson, Tom Atkins as Det. McCleary, Jonathan Higgins as Det. Rakowski, Jeff Monahan as Tom Burtram, Marie Cruz as Number 9, Tamsin Kelsey as Mariah Breed, Christine Forrest as Birdcage Partygoer, The Misfits as The Misfits
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