The Demolisher is an odd film, never quite sure of what it wants to be, a modern day Death Wish, an urban Friday the 13th or maybe an updated Maniac Cop. Or possibly a dark tale of a disintegrating mind. It tries being all of them at various points and the result is fairly chaotic and brings what could have been a very good counterpoint to films like Death Wish and The Exterminator down to jumbled collection of action scenes.
The film begins with a policewoman laying on the ground, obviously having suffered a brutal beating. She lives but is left wheelchair bound, her husband, a cable repairman, becomes obsessed with avenging her. He takes to the streets in full riot gear, using a nightstick to dispense rough justice to members of the gang responsible for her condition.
However it soon becomes clear that he’s having issues of his own. After he mishears an obnoxious customer he beats the man severely, it’s hinted possibly fatally, and he develops a twisted obsession with a young woman with issues of her own. At this point the film jumps the tracks and becomes a slasher film as he stalks her, laying waste to everyone in his way. This flips yet again, though more ambiguously, as her rescuer and his friends have ill intent of their own for her. This leads to some seriously over the top violence and an ending that makes little sense.
The way this starts out I was hoping for a darker take on the vigilante film. I love stuff like The Exterminator or the first couple of Death Wish films, but the potential for a more realistic look at the theme has always been there.
The problems begin early in the film though, in a flashback we see Samantha interrupting masked cultists performing a human sacrifice which leads to her beating. This is never mentioned again, and the gang appears to be a generic street gang with no ties to the occult. The whole scene looks like it came from a different movie.
The film also kills any sympathy we have for either Bruce or Samantha after the incident with the customer. He tells her what happens and rather than tell him to turn himself in or at least get help, she wants to know if anyone saw him. I can understand her not wanting him to end up in jail, but to be totally unconcerned that he’s attacking innocent people?
And that leads to the film’s big switch in tone. I could see showing his breakdown by having him going after the last of the gang and taking out everyone who gets in his way. That would at least make sense. Instead, for the most tenuous of reasons he goes after a young woman. And the ending it leads to had me shaking my head. This film really needed a top down rewrite.
However, it does have a lot going for it too. The action scenes are well staged, and there are plenty of them. It does deliver on the pure action level. And it looks to have used real fake blood, not CGI splatter. And there is a fair amount of splatter, although some, like a nightstick driven through a man’s chest is a bit ridiculous.
It’s also well acted, several of the scenes between Bruce and Samantha have solid emotional impact. Ry Barrett plays the lead with a minimum of dialogue, relying on expressions and actions a lot of the time. He does a good job even if some of the breakdown scenes are somewhat over written. Jessica Vano is also excellent as Marie, the target of his obsession. Her scenes in her support group are very solid and she gives an excellent physical performance during the chase scenes.
The photography is also beautiful. The film was shot in Toronto and for once doesn’t try to pretend its actually somewhere in the US. Toronto is a beautiful city and the photography makes the most of it. And the city is often used as a beautiful background to the film’s ugly events, making a nice counterpoint. The soundtrack also matches up well with the images. In a technical regard the film is a great success.
This is writer/director Gabriel Carrer’s fifth film and it’s his most ambitious. Unfortunately he doesn’t quite pull it off and like his earlier film If A Tree Falls, it’s watchable but not nearly what it could have been. To see what he can do at his best, he previous film House of Flies is a good choice.
I’m not saying to avoid The Demolisher, but I am advising you to keep your expectations low. This is a frustrating case of what could have been.