Fantastic Fest 2017 Review: BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Fantastic Fest alum S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) returns to the festival with his second feature film, a hardcore, badass and brutal prison movie that features a career-changing performance by Vince Vaughn.  Vaughn stars as Bradley Thomas, a retired boxer struggling to make ends meet for him and his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter).  Both Bradley and Lauren have had their personal struggles in life and things get even more challenging when he gets laid off.  Frustrated and tired of scraping a living and wanting to start a family, Bradley takes a job in the illegal drug business.  After a botched drug deal goes South, Bradley ends up in prison and indebted to a drug lord who plans to make his prison sentence a living hell.

Written and directed by Zahler, Brawl In Cell Block 99 takes a familiar premise and turns it into an insane exercise in hardcore brutality, violence, and badassery.  With Bone Tomahawk, Zahler turned a John Ford western into a shocking nightmare.  With his new film, the filmmaker takes on exploitation and smashes it to bloody, pulpy bits.  Most of the violence will make audiences cringe in shock and disgust, but certain makeup effects look quite ridiculous in some scenes.  I do appreciate that Zahler and crew wanted to use more practical effects in their movie, but the goofiness of certain moments really take away from the impact they should have.

For a few years now, I have been begging for Vince Vaughn to do something completely different from his tired comedic schtick and this triumphant turn as an uncompromising fighting machine is the answer to my prayers.  The film also features great performances by Jennifer Carpenter, Marc Blucas, Geno Segers and delightfully wicked appearances by Udo Kier and Don Johnson.  With this movie and Bone Tomahawk, S. Craig Zahler has made a name for himself in brutally violent cinema and I certainly look forward to what he does next.


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