In BRUISER, evidence of a surreal paranormal event is almost perfectly captured on film by George Romero. The film’s protagonist, Henry, weakly worms him way through life until the morning he awakens to find a blank, white mask where his real face once was. At one point, it’s suggested the mask frees Henry to indulge in his rage fantasies, and then to logically murder those who have wronged him. Henry’s innate goodness won’t allow him to kill innocent people, but it’s interesting to see that Romero never apologizes for Henry’s murder fantasies. Henry is, like all of us, capable of brutal, heinous acts, if only in our heads.
As an idea, Henry’s “Faceless” identity is fascinating, as it is believed that Henry has psychically formed the blank face from the material of his submerged rage. The problem becomes when Henry, and the film, decides to become parody, amused by the circumstance of the Faceless-ness. Henry’s revenge, when he takes it on the vile cast of his wife, his boss, and his best friend/financer, does not reflect Henry’s rage. The revenge is muted and lacking real anger, though much is made of what Henry will do when he goes after these people.
Romero made possibly his technically-finest film only to lose the incredible surreal event that changed his believable, solid main character into a vengeance machine, which weakens the story and its conclusion considerably. The instant Henry understands that the mask is truly HIS face is a great moment, and there are moments in BRUISER that stand up well with the best Romero has done.
It should also be pointed out that Romero comes from another time and mentality in filmmaking, when the idea of sex, sex by naked people, on-screen, in all it’s almost-realism, was not ignored and disregarded…namely the 1970s, when there was something to be said for people getting it on that didn’t require cutaways and soft lenses. It’s almost refreshing in these puritanical days of zero-actual-sex in films, and talk talk talk of sex in every medium, and the threat of sex on “real TV” shows, to find Romero willing to show a little legs over the shoulders. Even if everyone who has sex in BRUISER is unrepentant scum, that still doesn’t change the fact that we, the viewer, are witness to sex that isn’t a slow-motion fantasia starring Jeremy Irons.
BRUISER is a fascinating film that suddenly unravels at the end, like an old baseball hit too hard. Still worth it, just for the great attempt at something original by an original, in Romero.