Reader Recommendation by Jason Steadmon
DIRECTED BY: George Romero
FEATURING: Jason Flemyng, Peter Stormare, Nina Garbiras, Leslie Hope, Tom Atkins
PLOT: Henry Creedlow works to provide for and please his cheating, social-climbing wife. An event from a masquerade party takes on a real world tangibility, signifying his nobody existence but also allowing him to take forceful and violent control of an out-of-control life.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: George Romero’s filmography has never shied away from the strange, but the lack of an explicit reason for Bruiser’s events make it one of his weirdest and inaccessible (evidenced by its lack of success, then and now).
COMMENTS: A fable/allegory for those who walk through life in anonymity, Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng) is henpecked by his wife (Nina Garbiras) and dismissed by his employer (Peter Stormare, who coincidentally is messing around with Henry’s wife) at the magazine “Bruiser.” Taking cues from American Psycho and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Henry will have flights of fancy where he enacts retribution on those who he feels have wronged him. At a company masquerade party, the magazine’s art director makes strange masks for everyone, and this plays into and is reflected in Henry’s later transformation. This also leads to his violently standing up for himself and taking control of his life.
Much of the film plays in a nightmare logic scenario. Henry experiences his transformation for no reason other than the fact that he attended a party and had a plaster cast made of his face, which was made into a featureless mask meant to be decorated with paint to give it an inner-persona feel. When his transformation occurs, his first thought is to take the mask off but he scratches his face and draws blood, showing that it actually is part of him. Following his retribution and taking charge of his life, he’s seen in an even lower level position (mail clerk), now looking like a surfer. When he’s berated by one of the executives, the transformation comes back, as he gets ready to right things again.
This was the first film that George Romero made following his self-imposed exile to Canada (that, based on his hatred for the George W. Bush administration). He hadn’t made a film since 1993’s The Dark Half, and didn’t make another one until 2005 with Land of the Dead. During the 90s, he set up many projects that either fell by the wayside or ended up in production hell–probably due in no small part to his favoring of personal and somewhat bizarre concepts like Bruiser. Canal+ stepped up and provided financing for this one and, coming from a European point of view, were probably more attuned to it. In the United States, the movie was released directly to DVD in 2001.
The film was made with what seems to be an eye for cult status that never materialized. That notion is cemented by Tom Atkins playing a cop and “The Misfits” appearing as the band at the end party. It’s kind of a shame that Bruiser is mostly forgotten in Romero’s oeuvre.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“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… It’s a morality play, or a 21st century Brothers Grimm fable.” – Jeremiah Kipp, efilmcritic.com (contemporaneous)