BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99
As writer/director S. Craig Zahler had already proven with his debut film Bone Tomahawk—shocking everyone with the way his restrained, novelistic approach to style and writing eventually gave way to grindhouse carnage—he’s definitely a filmmaker to watch out for, and probably a psychopath. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is no different, his still, detached style and rigorous pacing this time applied to a noir-inspired, apocalyptic descent into the American prison system. Vince Vaughan stars as Bradley (not Brad, Bradley) Thomas, a quiet, composed man in the body of a giant, who—after he’s laid off from his towing job turns to drug-running to take care of his wife and unborn child—when a drug deal goes violently wrong is blamed and blackmailed into assassinating someone in, you guessed it, maximum security cell block 99.
As with Bone Tomahawk what’s most terrifying about Brawl in Cell Block 99 is Zahler’s patient inevitability, reflecting the way Bradley’s superhuman strength and rage is only ever applied with disturbing calculation, the film takes its time slowly observing its desolate spaces and the mundane bodies that occupy them until its sudden outbursts of viciously blunt violence. The sound design is impeccable as Bradley’s giant form intrudes empty cells and hallways, feeling every massive, lumbering step he takes, echoing the sheer power and damage his fists will eventually inflict.
Unsurprisingly Brawl concludes on a truly obscene, squirm-inducing massacre that Zahler’s lens doesn’t shy away from (one truly delicious or horrendous moment, depending on how his violence plays for you, visually rhymes with the title of his next scheduled film: Dragged Across Concrete), rendering every crunch of bone and peel of flesh in vivid, blunt framing—its extreme, grindhouse pleasures deeply accentuated by the contradictory directness of his prose and tranquility of his shooting/editing style.
MOM & DAD
For anyone that’s a fan of Mark Nevildine and Brian Taylor—the two batshit insane filmmakers behind delightful atrocities such as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Gamer and the Crank franchise—and their shameless, viscerally propulsive formal style, Mom and Dad (though seeing Taylor going solo) should satisfy, as it’s all their raw energy applied to a pulpy Purge premise, and features the most unhinged Nic Cage performance since the 90s.
Cage and Selma Blair star as two wound up parents, frustrated by their lives and children, when an unknown hysteria breaks out reversing their natural parental instincts to protect their children and instead persuades them (and all others parents in America) to murder them. Brutally. Taylor’s script is ludicrous and his direction punctuates every absurdity until your head practically spins, his constant use of motion and editing giving the events the feel of an adrenaline shot to the heart—meanwhile Nic Cage briefly eats out the tip of a beer can and screams the “Hokey Pokey” while destroying a pool table with a sledgehammer. It’s wild.