If you ever wanted to break your fists on your boss's head, this is your movie! People expected zombies with Bruiser, which is pretty dumb, eh? It's a tale right out of Kafka, and could best be described as an 'inverted-horror' where you root-for the 'monster', a bit like Frankenstein. Yup, the Left has dominated horror in literature for nearly 200-years. The monster isn't really a monster at all, however, but a poor-schmuck (Henry Creedlow, played expertly by Jason Flemyng from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels) who works at a corporate ad agency run by an out-of-control boss who was once a Yugoslavian dissident! The boss is played by that great Swedish actor, Peter Stormare (Fargo, and the cool VW ads--'pre-pimped!'), and he really understands that this is a fable.
Henry Creedlow also has a 'best friend' who is also his stockbroker. It's revealed later that he's also betraying Henry by embezzling funds from his portfolio. And Creedlow's 'boss' is also sleeping-with his monstrous-wife, who is so cold and cruel that...they all destroy his identity. He literally (but NOT literally, since this is an allegory/parable) loses his face, and thus, who he was. He literally wakes-up one morning, goes to his bathroom mirror, and notices he has no face. Naturally, he drops-out of his routine and has to hide this fact until he can fix-it.
The image of Henry's transformation is bizarre: just a smooth, white, fleshy mask with a mouth as his only means of expression, almost a routine out of Naked Lunch. It's a pretty subversive film, and it angers the right people. It has to be said that it looks great too, and Romero's rapid-editing is smooth and ever present. In time, he realizes that the only way he can regain himself is by killing his wife, his boss, and everyone else who has compromised his sense of self and dignity. Yes, it's a story where we root for the 'monster', only the real monsters are the so-called 'victims', his oppressors who have robbed him of identity by their daily-sleights and betrayals of this man. In this sense, the film advocates a kind of revolution of the mind, and ponders the whole concept of identity. For this reason, it's an existentialist film. This is why many so-called horror fans didn't like it--it's smarter than they are, which isn't hard in America.
Very little of this film is meant to be literal, however, it's a story that is very expressionist, allegorical, and therefore, psychological. If you ever had a bad marriage, and if you ever had a boss or co-workers you simply wished were run over by a train (a great scene realizes this fantasy!), this is YOUR film. We can beat our so-called superiors by outwitting them, the battlefield is a psychological one where the individual must assert themselves, or be conquered. This is the American workplace, it isn't pretty. Romero's films are always political in some way, and Bruiser is no exception. His usual subtext is anti-capitalist, which is somehow exotic to many North Americans, though not the rest of the world (especially Latin America, right now in 2006).
After all, America is capitalism. I have to say again that Flemyng is incredible in this film, and a performance that would have done Lon Chaney (not Jr.) proud. Also great is the performance of Tom Atkins (The Fog, Escape From New York, Two Evil Eyes, etc.) who plays the detective investigating all of Creedlow's crimes. He paints an accurate picture of the impotence of cops in an American society where money and power negate law and order. The rest of the cast is comprised of some of the finest Canadian actors, everyone is solid.
So why is it so hard for people to make films for adults? I understand that sometimes you just want to turn the brain off, and escape, that's fine. This is probably at the heart of why some don't like this film. It reminds them of how shitty their lives are! Granted, but how long are we going to run away from confronting our collective problems? Bruiser also challenges the individual to do something about it, which I applaud. Romero literally had to screen the movie in major cities with his own money! Why is a man in his sixties gutsier than all these young directors? Because he isn't a coward. Bruiser is scary because most of it is an accurate reflection of how sick our culture is. People sublimate their individuality to the demands of power and rarely even ponder why they do it. They accept the values of conquerors unconsciously, sleepwalking through life, and hurting people without much regard at all. All in the name of money and comfort. Suck on that, Roger Ebert.
The Lion's Gate DVD is pretty good (actually widescreen), with a commentary that excels. Too bad they didn't bankroll a bigger project with Romero after this one, as Romero's films have a great catalog value in the long-term. Lion's Gate is notorious for managing catalog poorly, however, so perhaps it's better they just distributed this as a DVD. At least they got it right with Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. The problem is, they never invented any new steps in the genre, as skilled as they are in their own ways. George Romero practically invented modern horror with Night of the Living Dead. Astonishingly, it took French (Canal) and Canadian (tax credits in Ontario) money to get a movie that critiques the American workplace made at all, a sad statement on our ability to look in the mirror.