Revenge never goes out of style. It’s one of cinema’s benchmark themes and as far as reliabilities go, it’s hard not to root for the vigilante. In his new film The Demolisher, Canadian filmmaker Gabriel Carrer takes the vigilante motif and turns it on its head. The story plays with our sympathies and jostles around genre conventions until our moral compass is a bleeding pulp. With sparse dialogue and even slimmer exposition, The Demolisher is a strongly singular genre film that’s as gorgeous as it is remarkable.
Bruce (Ry Barrett) is an Internet repairman by day and riot gear-adorned vigilante by night. What turned him towards a life of revenge was the horrible assault on his wife, Samantha (Tianna Nori), a former cop now confined to a wheelchair. The gang that assaulted Samantha wears giant gorilla faces on their clothing, which is a huge help for Bruce, whose obsession with vengeance begins to consume his life to the point of a complete mental breakdown. Soon his reality and relationship with his wife begin to crumble, leading him to target possibly innocent people on his warpath.
With a slim amount of dialogue, Barrett manages to display the traumatizing thirst for retribution that consumes Bruce. When he’s in his riot gear, Bruce is a god. Without the helmet, Kevlar, and baton, he’s a tortured, broken man that finds no comfort in everyday life. Paralleling his story is Marie (Jessica Vano), a young woman who’s experienced her own fair share of trauma. When their paths cross, Bruce channels his fury on Marie and they begin a devastating cat-and-mouse chase through Toronto.
One of the only moments in a revenge film that I can recall succinctly examining the psychological damage that vigilantism enacts is that scene in Death Wish where Charles Bronson swings the sock full of quarters around in a dizzying rage. The Demolisher is like that scene but 90 minutes long and fucking beautiful. Carrer’s approach to the theme of revenge is astute and wicked visual. Some of the shots (particularly the night ones) are downright stunning and the juxtaposition of a man decked out in riot gear walking down a peaceful, quiet street is jarring. But despite its title, The Demolisher isn’t interested in violence. The moments of brutality are scant, so when they do occur, they’re wicked effective. The film is much more concerned with violence’s consequences and the toll they take on the people.
Almost dream-like in its visuals, The Demolisher is a powerful, jolting entry in the vigilant genre. It’s an unconventional character study that challenges its audience to take sides. We will inevitably root for Marie to escape Bruce’s misplaced rage, of course, but what of the delusional vigilante who the world has stomped all over?