Directed by Gabriel Carrer
World premiering at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Fest, the Canadian revenge film The Demolisher is more of a treatise on the psychological trauma of dealing with tragedy than the unrelenting assault of ultraviolence its name suggests. There is enough rage-fueled pummeling, however, to satiate the appetite for good old-fashioned, dish-served-cold revenge; but The Demolisher winds up being too misguided and uneven to truly satisfy as a work of exploitation or as a triumphant tale of survival.
Like its main character, Bruce (Barrett), who dons riot gear to attack like a wild animal instead of a man on a mission, the basic story of one man avenging his paralyzed cop wife (Nori) never pays off because halfway through the running time, The Demolisher, as a character and a narrative, jump tracks to become about something and someone else entirely. That someone else is a sickly marathon runner named Marie (Vano), suffering from muscle atrophy, who finds out that being in a support group and feeling sorry for herself is not a good road to recovery. Instead, it takes a case of mistaken identity where the increasingly unstable Bruce believes Marie was witness to one of his vigilante tantrums.
The rest of the film is essentially a long, sometimes compelling chase scene wherein Bruce and Marie learn that they’re not invincible, leaving Marie, at least, to walk away a stronger person. It’s a twisted therapy session where suddenly she has no problems with her legs and runs like the wind because, now, she has a very good reason to keep moving. Agreed, a man in riot gear bashing people’s heads in with nightsticks right in front of you is a fantastic incentive.
The problem is, to ensure that Marie overcomes her issues, Bruce completely abandons his real reason for going on his nightly rampages in the first place. Early on, in one of the best sequences in the film, we see what happened to his wife when she stumbles upon what is surely some kind of cult. There’s a man in a hangman’s hood bearing down with a great sword, and suddenly, two figures in wolf masks enter in to protect whatever’s going on. After somehow being paralyzed during the exchange, we return to present day where the couple is now depressed and unhappy with the day-to-day reminder of what happened. It’s unclear, but apparently there is a gang connection where the members all wear a picture of a monkey as their insignia. This gives Bruce a clue that he can use to go after the group that did this to his wife. Unfortunately, this becomes secondary almost immediately. Has Bruce gone so far off the rails that he just wants to kill indiscriminately? There is no follow-up with whatever cult ceremony his wife uncovered, and when Bruce does come across members of the gang, they serve only as a roadblock to his unjustified obsession with pursuing Marie, a character that has nothing to do with his wife’s injury.
The Demolisher is a frustrating film because the pieces are there, but they’re just never put in the right place. It’s shot beautifully and directed well by Canadian filmmaker Gabriel Carrer (If a Tree Falls, In the House of Flies), and there’s an effective industrial score by Future Funk Squad. In its quieter moments where the geared-up Demolisher is seen on the hunt walking through sleepy city streets, there’s an ominous dread on screen because you’re unsure of what he’s going to do. These flourishes lose their effectiveness though and start to exist as purely stylistic choices, just how the slow-motion shots in the film are done for looks instead of dramatic effect.
The performance by Ry Barrett is a standout, and when the riot gear helmet comes off, his anguish and torment are evident, and it really does come through that he’s losing control. It’s just never addressed that he might be losing control to the point where he no longer cares about tracking down the men responsible and carrying out his own brand of revenge in the form of severe police brutality. He’s a vigilante with no direction, which undermines the drama that works in The Demolisher.
Although this film was certainly in motion before police protests around America began, it’s interesting that a Canadian film would show a crazed cop in riot gear on the loose in Toronto because the country doesn’t have a history of the kind of police violence the U.S. has. Bruce doesn’t just dole out justice with nightsticks: He strangles, beats, and even shoots his way through an increasing amount of innocent people. That senseless violence doesn’t really amount to any social commentary about a cop terrifying the innocent – a compelling idea that is never touched on. It’s almost by accident that The Demolisher helps anyone by the story’s end, making it ultimately feel like something more akin to Uwe Boll’s Rampage than a film that began with a man consumed by a singular, justified, and relatable purpose.