Fantastic Fest 2017 Review: Brawl in Cell Block 99 gives you the gnarliest, bloodiest prison film you’ve ever seen.

In which Vince Vaughn unveils his action skills and stomps on a lot of skulls.

Writer/director S. Craig Zahler already made a huge impression with his 2015 western Bone Tomahawk, and now he’s returned to solidify his position as one of the best directors working today with a brutal movie that dares you to not look away. Plus Vince Vaughn kicks more ass than you’ve ever seen him do before.

After a drug deal goes bad, former boxer Bradley (he hates being called Brad) Thomas is sent to prison, where his plans of quietly serving his sentence get violently and brutally interrupted. Vince Vaughn does maybe the best performance of his career so far. Bradley is a man of few words, with a gaze that could brake your arm almost as fast as his fist. He just wants a quiet life for him and his wife Lauren, played by Jennifer Carpenter.

Vince Vaughn gives his best performance yet.

As quiet as Bradley is, though, when things get serious he’s ready to pack a punch and break a lot of skulls. Vaughn impresses in the many, many action scenes in the film and I hope to see him do more roles like this.

S. Craig Zahler and cinematographer Benji Bakshi never shy away from showing as much violence as possible, and make it look good at the same time. Most of the kills are filmed with wide shots, and it makes it more real as you not only see someone die brutally, but the reaction from the killer and people around him.

It is hard to look at times, but as much as you want to look away, the film is so intense you won’t be able to move.

The other star of the film is the magnificently evil Udo Kier as “Placid Man”, a mysterious figure who is there to give you bad news while looking like the devil, and Kier is up for the role. Every time he’s on screen, you’ll get shivers down your spine as you know there’s something bad coming.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 might very well be the most violent film of the year. Shot in a very realistic way, every punch, every skull stomped feel real and will almost make you sick. But you will love every second of it.

Grade: Opening Night

How I grade films

 

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