The Demolisher is The Nail Gun Massacre gone to grad school, a sharp urban thriller with a superficially similar antagonist.
It’s its own genre too: vigilante melodrama. A psychological study of “Bruce,” a kind of PTSD Batman (capably portrayed by Ry Barrett) who cleans up the streets armored in police riot gear.
And there’s a reason the movie’s got smarts behind the visor.
Director Gabriel Carrer is the brains behind In the House of Flies, a terrific indie-basement horror seemingly inspired by the Barbara Mackle kidnapping, where a woman was held for ransom underground in a fiberglass-reinforced box outfitted for her to be kept alive with an air-pump and modest provisions. There, he proved he could provide scares in spades, mostly in just one room and through the phone voice of the tormentor.
Here, Carrer neatly juxtaposes invincibility (a recurring motif here) with vulnerability. The hard-as-nails Demolisher roams the streets by night, taking out biker baddies, while caring for his wheelchair-bound wife Samantha by day. She’s a former police woman who is trying to walk again after being brutally attacked.
As a counterpoint, there’s Marie, a young long-distance runner who, unbeknownst to her, enters Bruce’s crosshairs just as his tenuous grip on sanity really starts to crumble. Bruce’s paranoia gets the better of him and he sets his sights on Marie. Then things really get rolling.
And security is the other theme here: cameras/surveillance notices seemingly everywhere except in places they really need to be, allowing this law and order wannabe to do as he pleases. An absentee police force is no help and security guards prove ineffectual as well.
There’s a lot going on in a tight 80 minutes, including lots of morally ambiguous questions posed that audiences who cheered on the likes of Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey or The Exterminator were never asked to ponder.
Other reviewers have pointed out how unlikely it is that Toronto, not known for its crime nor its high-profile cases of police brutality like New York or Los Angeles, would provide a suitable backdrop for a vigilante movie. But this reviewer noted the parallels between The Demolisher and law and order gone to seed — police in riot gear that brought “Toronto the Good” so much negative attention during the G20 Summit.
Dialogue is sparse and exposition is minimal, but the tension is thick. The atmosphere is stifling, with the wide-open, empty, night time streets appearing claustrophobic as Bruce’s world closes in on him. A truly evocative electro-score sets pulses pounding.
Book-ended by some pretty clever support group empowerment messages, The Demolisher is, dare we say, inspiring and a force to be reckoned with, even if it may limp along in some places.
***1/2 (out of 5)
LISTEN TO OUR CHAT WITH THE MOVIE’S STAR AND DIRECTOR ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST