TIFF 2017: Brawl In Cell Block 99 Is An Outrageously Gruesome Prison Movie

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Who’s Behind It

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler.

Who’s In It

Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Udo Kier, Don Johnson.

Who’ll Love It

Vince Vaughn fans ready to see the actor reinvent himself. Also: anyone who enjoys ultra violent genre cinema.

What’s It About

After losing his job and nearly his wife, Bradley (Vince Vaughn) pledges to turn his life around—with a new career in drug trafficking. Forced into a shady deal he would rather avoid, he finds himself behind bars as a result. Unsatisfied with the outcome of this deal, Bradley’s partners kidnap his pregnant wife and tell him to somehow get transferred to maximum security, in order to murder a problematic inmate and save his family. Of course, nothing goes according to plan and brutal violence ensues.

Why You Should See It

Novelist turned screenwriter, director, and composer S. Craig Zahler made a huge splash in 2015 with his directorial debut Bone Tomahawk, and Brawl In Cell Block 99 pushes everything he did in that film even further. Just as Bone is a relatively traditional, if unusually verbose, western with measured pacing and a hardcore horror finale, Brawl abandons its strict genre orientation for a gruesome, gore-soaked climax.

However, Zahler is such a skilled writer—genuinely wild dialogue and story ideas are sprinkled throughout—that this film never falls victim to the disposable frivolity that so often plagues gore-heavy movies. In part, this stems from the ironic complexities of Bradley’s situation. While most of the characters believe that he’s an unhinged madman, this is simply a role that circumstance has forced him to play, in order to protect his wife and unborn daughter. In reality, he’s a decent man driven by naïve patriotism and other traditional values. The fact that he is nonetheless the victim and perpetrator of many unthinkably cruel acts (that occasionally take the form of Jackie Chan-style fight sequences) makes this an impressively rich, surprising, and layered genre movie—that is definitely not for the squeamish.

When You Can See It

Wednesday, September 13 at 9:30PM (Scotiabank 12); Saturday, September 16 at 6PM (Scotiabank 12). Tickets available here. Release date TBD. Check out the trailer below.