DIRECTOR: S. Craig Zahler
WRITER: S. Craig Zahler
Willie C. Carpenter
When Bradley Thomas is fired from his mechanic job. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he discovers that his wife has been having an affair after she suffered a miscarriage. When she falls pregnant again, and they start to work on their marriage. Bradley is sent to prison after a drug deal goes wrong. When a ruthless gang ends up kidnapping his wife, they advise Bradley that he must kill a fellow prisoner because if he doesn't, they will perform a horrific operation on his unborn child.
There are just some actors who can turn you off a movie. The name alone is enough to make you wary of the quality of the film that they are headlining. One such actor for me is Vince Vaughn. When he first burst onto the scene in movies like Swingers and The Lost World. I enjoyed him as an actor. He kept delivering on the worthwhile performances in darker material like The Cell and Clay Pigeons. Then the noughties happened, and he kept starring in these subpar comedies where I lost all enjoyment of his work. I had all but given up on him.
Now we come to the last five years, and things have changed. Vince Vaughn has now played a villain in the divisive second season of True Detective. He also headlines the incredibly dark and ultra-violent action crime film Brawl In Cell Block 99. This is also the sophomore effort of S. Craig Zahler who directed the horror western movie Bone Tomahawk. I decided to review his latest because this feels as adjacent to the horror genre as you get. This has enough violence and gore to rival most genre films these days. This is dark stuff right here.
Some people may dispute my claims of calling this a horror film. Some folks may not even think I should review it for the blog. Even if this weren't as gory and as violent as it is, I would still say that the entire subplot involving an abortionist who is capable of snipping the limbs of an unborn fetus while in the womb is pretty terrifying. I don't even think most horror movies go to those dark places. I believe that the abortionist subplot may be one of the cruellest ways to blackmail a person into doing something that I've ever seen put in a film plot.
From the very first moment that Vince Vaughn destroys a car with his bare hands on camera, I was hooked. The only real problem that I have with Brawl In Cell Block 99 is that everything from the destruction of the car up to when he enters prison sort of feels like it slows down the pacing. It's not enough to kill the flow of the story, but it does feel like it pulls the breaks for a while. The drug run gone sour, while a pivotal scene and it sets into motion the abortionist subplot. I did feel that these moments really cater more to the action and not the darker stuff which I enjoyed here.
I feel that Brawl In Cell Block 99 feels aesthetically sombre and dark. Not once did I ever think that the characters were safe. While the film is never scary, I found that it was steeped in dread. It also has this Grindhouse sort of feel to it. As soon as Bradley enters the prison and he is fighting his way through inmates and guards, things pick right back up. The movie never slows down from this point on. It's also knowing that his pregnant wife and unborn child might be murdered in such a horrific way that it never stops looming over the audience.
Now we come to the carnage on display here. This is brutal. There is so much bone-crushing violence thrown at the audience that it at times feels extreme. I think what makes the gore and bloodshed so gruesome and hard-hitting is that it looks mostly practical and at times somewhat realistic. There is a scene where someone's face is dragged along the concrete, and the skin peels back to expose the bone underneath. I actually felt every moment of that. It made me wince in disgust and revulsion. This movie isn't for the queasy.
This is the Vince Vaughn's show. This film rests almost entirely on his shoulders here, and for the first time in over a decade, I loved his performance here. Vince Vaughn is a force to be reckoned with, and I think this may be a career best performance from him. He is dropping jokes one minute, is stoic the next, and at times, he's menacing. When he is breaking officers arms and stomping on prisoners skulls, he is a hulking mass. I can admit my wrongs when an actor I once thought wasn't great, delivers a brilliant performance. Vince Vaughn really knocked it out of the park.
Lastly, we have the supporting cast. Jennifer Carpenter is fantastic as always. From Dexter to her performances in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and Quarantine. I have always had a soft spot for her. Don Johnson and Udo Kier are welcome additions to the cast. I think it's a testament to an actor who can utter lines and be inherently creepy and that's Udo. Marc Blucas is here in a smaller role, but by the film's end, I was cheering him on as he start's defending Jennifer Carpenter against the villains of the film. The entire cast delivers the goods.
DEATH TOLL: 10
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A man destroys a car with his bare hands, which leaves him cut and bloody.
- Someone's head is cracked open with a barbell.
- A man's head is crushed in a cell block door.
- A man's leg is snapped inward.
- People are repeatedly shot in the face and chest.
- A police officers arm is blown off.
- A prisoner officers arm is snapped back, and the bone breaks through the skin.
- Someone's arm is broken, and their spine is crushed.
- A prisoner is elbowed so hard his teeth get lodged in the person's arm.
- A man's skull is completely crushed when stomped on.
- A man is shot dead when he exits a car.
- Someone's arm is snapped in half.
- Someone's face is dragged along the concrete, and their skull is crushed.
- A man is continuously shocked and electrocuted.
- Someone's eyes are gouged out, and their spine is broken.
- A man is decapitated when his head is stomped on.
Brawl In Cell Block 99 is an absolute blast. With only a few pacing problems early on, this is one of the most gruesome and fun experiences I've had with a film all year. If you want your ultra-violence with a grindhouse and exploitation sort of prison movie vibe to it, this is the one for you. Vince Vaughn delivers a career-best performance. Watching him break bones and stomp on skulls is such a gleefully gruesome time. I would love to see him in these types of movies more often. Drop the comedy and go over to the dark side more often.