There is a scene early on in Gabriel Carrer’s The Demolisher where the soundtrack blares the “I wanna feel invincible” as a vigilante in riot gear takes on some local gang members. While other directors would use this moment as a calling card to showcase the strength of the face shield wearing individual, Carrer opts to take a different approach. He uses the scene to reinforce the feelings of weakness that, like an overflowing river, has swept up the central characters in his film. It is here that the audience realizes that the true terror in the film is not the maniac exacting brutal violence on others, though he is scary, but rather the fear associated with being helpless to stop the uncontrollable curve balls that life throws at us.
The characters in film are desperately fighting against the feeling of vulnerability that, for various reasons, has engulfed them. This is most evident in Bruce (Ry Barrett), a cable repairman whose world is shattered after his police office wife, Samantha (Tianna Nori), is paralyzed while on the job. Unsure of how to channel the rage and emotional pain he feels, Bruce hits the streets each night to administer his own brand of brutal vengeance on wrongdoers. However, as his increasing rage consumes him, the lines between good and evil begin to blur.
Soon Bruce finds himself obsessing over Marie (Jessica Vano), a runner who cannot come to terms with the fact that a medical condition is causing her body to deteriorate, to the point where it starts to impact the home care he provides for his wife. Convinced that he must punish Marie at all costs, and leaving a trail of battered bodies in the process, Bruce sets out on a rigorous hunt for his prey.
Presenting the city of Toronto in a cool and menacing light, the neon blues that the film incorporates are both piercing and mesmerizing, Carrer’s film is far more than a hyper-stylized homage to 80’s genre filmmaking. The Demolisher weaves a captivating thriller that is sparse on dialogue, but heavy in subtext. It is a rather bold choice by Carrer to expunge the expository dialogue. Flowing like visual poetry, the film never worries about whether or not the audience will be able to follow its dark rhythmic beats. It merely has faith, and rightfully so, that the viewers will stick with the characters through this nightmarish journey.
While Carrer’s keen visual eye, and strong command of cinematic narrative, provides the foundation for this bleak and haunting film; it is his cast who truly make The Demolisher’s cold heart beat. Ry Barrett is sensational in the role of Bruce. He masters that complex balance of terrifying audiences while simultaneously making them understand what has driven Bruce to this point. Instead of making the character a Terminator-style killing machine, Barrett brings an unexpected level of humanity to the role. This makes his descent into madness all the more chilling.
Barrett’s performance is nicely complimented by the equally strong work by Jessica Vano and Tianna Nori. Both women are given the tough task of portraying individuals whose bodies are breaking down, or broken in Nori’s case, and are struggling to cope. However, Vano and Nori ensure that their characters are more than mere victims. They provide Marie and Samantha with an internal resolve that make them much stronger than the audience initially perceives them to be. It can be argued that the women in the film are actually the strongest characters, even if they do not realize it.
A visually riveting sight to behold, The Demolisher pulls audiences into its hauntingly hypnotic allure. The stellar performances not only keep the film glued together, but also adds context to areas where the lean narrative does not. The film effectively shows how one’s fears can give you strength just as easily as it can drive you to madness. The Demolisher is one of the year’s hidden gems.
Sunday, October 18, 9:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto After Dark website.