'Bull': Paul Andrew Williams' Revenge Film Packs A Brutalizing Punch [Fantasia Review]

Bull,” the newest effort from director Paul Andrew Williams (“Song For Marion”), fits into the niche category of revenge thriller far better than many other similar offerings. These films aren’t always the most rewatchable, as the heavy subject matter usually leans heavily into some intensely dark territory, with a recurring premise usually surrounding someone emerging from a horrific personal tragedy with a bloodthirsty vendetta against those who’ve done them wrong. This is where “Bull” steps up to the plate, armed with an arsenal of shocking violence set within a few days in the life of a man with a simple mission intent on completion by whatever means necessary.  It may not set about revolutionizing the genre, but “Bull” still packs a mean punch in its lean 87-minute runtime.

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“Bull” isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, both from the main character’s point of view and in the visual atmosphere present throughout. By the time the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel compelled to take a shower, sit in a darkened room by yourself and cry, or some combination of the two. Set within the underbelly of London, the film revolves around the title character, a gang member who’s been working under his father-in-law Norm (David Hayman) until personal matters drive a wedge between Bull and his wife Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt), who decides their son Aiden (Henri Charles) would best be in her custody than that of ol’ Bull. Upset by this turn of events, Bull decides it’s time to take action by doing what he does best, bulldozing a path to his son through everyone who may have a lead on where he or his now ex-wife might be. That destructive beeline involves dismemberment, knives driven slowly into the organs of his opponents, and menacing lines spoken in a manner that would make the best antiheroes slip completely into the role of villain without the audience batting an eye. It’s hard to say what makes a compelling baddie, and though Bull never truly goes full Joker, his menace somehow works both ways.

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There’s no way around the fact that “Bull” is as brutalizing and graphic as it gets — the acts of violence don’t begin to do justice to their presentation onscreen, always accompanied by the horrific cries of the victims & the unfortunate ever-present nearby witnesses. For those expecting an addition to the list in the form of a moment where Bull cauterizes a wound left behind after loping off the arm of yet another thug, you won’t be disappointed.  The whole affair is rich in the feel of a pre-“MementoChristopher Nolan, with the camera utilized in a rogue manner not unlike, say, “Following,” especially in the uncomfortable tension throughout and the environment which somehow feels slightly alien even in its real-world setting. Neil Maskell (who played another similarly intense character in “Kill List“) as Bull does indeed do what he can with the character — the boiling fury, as described, couldn’t be more crystal clear, and various lines find a delivery method that earns him a well-deserved seat at the table of vengeful screen fathers. However, the flashbacks to the happier moments with his son bring about some much-needed levity, only for things to come spiraling back to the present, particularly during a carnival ride sequence when Bull descends momentarily into aggressive levels of mania, sure to leave a wounding impression.

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“Bull” may not be the sort of film one chooses to take in after a hard day at the office, but as a slice-of-life glimpse into the world of a desperate man at the end of his rope, it’s a fascinating watch not at all suitable for those with a weak stomach. With nary a poor performance to be found and a tone that engages as much as it might cause one to shift uncomfortably in their seat, “Bull” is an engrossing experience.  It’s not an instant genre classic but never strives to be, and in hitting such a simple goal, it, like Bull himself, somehow succeeds. [B]

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