Monday, March 8, 2010

BULLETFACE - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



BULLETFACE – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

Albert Pyun makes movies that are lower in budget and tend to challenge his audience. He knows what provocation is. When THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW first appeared in theaters in 1975, Pyun was first in line on the first day. And he went to see the film daily until it was pulled for lack of attendance. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW really provoked audiences at the time. While watching Pyun’s latest film, BULLETFACE, I felt a similar provocation. So strong was this feeling that I actually had to stop watching the film in order to process my reaction.

BULLETFACE is a revenge thriller at its nucleus. Other aspects are introduced and woven in, but this film is built around a payback core. The film starts with a series of horrible mishaps that lead to some of the heaviest moments that BULLETFACE has to offer. In San Ladero, Mexico, Dara Maren (Victoria Maurette), a crooked DEA agent, is helping her brother Bruno (Michael Esparza) smuggle women across the border for a gangster named Eric Muller (Eddie Velez). Bruno takes blood samples of the women because they have to be “clean.” This is a regular thing between Dara and Bruno, and while it looks like prostitution on the surface, it is something a lot more sinister. The connection between the siblings is strong. There is an unforeseen shootout with Eric where Dara is struck in face with a bullet, and Bruno takes one to the gut. The Mexican Federal Agents soon swoop in and bust them both. At sentencing, Dara chooses to take a twenty-five year sentence at a US/Mexico prison facility in Mexicali, Mexico in order to have her brother returned to California as a free man. All of this happens before the opening credits are finished.

While in prison, Dara is flesh fodder for the male guards, and the series of brutal rapes that she is subjected to takes all of the cringeworthy aspects of THE ACCUSED and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and ratchets them up with even more force and degradation. These scenes are disturbing and realistic. They are raw and bloody. And other rape scenes featuring Dara’s cellmates (which are referenced through the rest of the film in flashback) might be what BULLETFACE will be most remembered for.

Dara has put herself in this vulnerable position to protect her brother. To her the bond that they have is worth enduring these shocking levels of extreme abuse. But when Bruno is killed on the outside, Dara has nothing to lose.

Her prison wounds are so severe a month after her brother’s death that Dara needs to be transferred to a real hospital for the weekend. In a HE GOT GAME type of scenario, Ned Walker (Steven Bauer), a DEA Special Ops Agent, springs Dara for the weekend. Her mission is to use her connections to determine a new drug that is taking over. Dara’s planned ulterior motive is to find out who killed her brother. On the quest for the drug information and the truth behind her brother’s killing, Dara proceeds to cut a relentless, violent swath through Imperial Beach California.

Local crimelord brothers Robert and Eric Muller have been putting the finishing touches on a spinal fluid drug that is extracted violently from the victim’s neck with a needle-gun. Their warehouse is complete with the dead, naked bodies of failed experiments in the background and muted screams in the air. All of this modern human experimentation is taking place under the demented, watchful eye of Doctor Shockner/Saeed (Alan Abelow). The result of their “red-cap” drug, when not fatal, is a high that features completely-red eyes and an immortality complex. The conspiracy and usage behind the drug is rumored to go all the way to the top, with police and higher authorities using it. Dara at one point muses that it is “immortality for sale with a kicker.”

Randall Fontana’s story is an interesting one. The idea of a cannibalistic new drug is nothing new. The film RAVENOUS featured a high and immortality/strengthening with the eating of human flesh. BULLETFACE’s presentation of this new drug and the high body count used to perfect its effects are intriguing to watch.

Victoria Maurette completely throws herself into her role as Dara. She wears her psychological damage with a twitchy, hard carapace. Dara is presented as a woman who has seen too much and is plagued by her demons. She flashes back regularly to her harrowing prison past, and it is a hindrance to her. But when queried about how she got out of prison, she wryly states that she got out for good behavior and “you’d be surprised what you can do when you are motivated.” She is able to trivialize her trauma, but her nervous laughter speaks of unresolved pain.

Dara also talks about karma. Ironically, her own suffering in prison is karmic payoff for her human trafficking. And after Dara has paid her dues and taken her damage she is looking to administer some of her own. She wants to be the retribution, the complete payoff for the death of her brother. “I am their karma,” she says. This underlying theme demonstrates that BULLETFACE is more than just “another exploitation flick.”

With her ‘69’ tattoo and her Marlboro chain-smoking, Dara really does channel the badass. Her smoky voice and her whiskey and lager swaggering also show her powder-keg potential. Her orientation to the world around her is that of a person of large stature, which just isn’t the case. Dara is actually so small that when holding a .45, she might as well be holding a nail gun. She is all business; she has just a few hours to get the information that she needs and has no time for the sexual advances of her ex-lover Shannon (Jenny Dare Paulin).

Albert Pyun’s direction brings all of the film’s rough-edged elements together. There are many, many characters, and they are all introduced with a freeze-frame and their name written across the screen. Pyun uses close-ups, hand-held shots, and jagged editing which all make for some entertaining viewing. It is evident that he is in complete control of the film and is choosing what he wants you to see no matter how painful it might be.

BULLETFACE is a B-Movie with all of the exploitation and taboo subject matter it can muster. It is independent through and through. The budget for this film was about $120,000. Gunfire, double-crosses, and crooked Feds are infused in the storyline, giving it a modern noir feel. Some of the acting leaves a bit to be desired. Similarly, the effects, while conceptually strong, do miss at points.

My mistake in watching BULLETFACE was to step away from it after viewing the harsh prison rape scenes and try to process them. Had I watched the film all the way through without stopping, the complete package wouldn’t have wrecked me as hard. Taken in isolation with no buffering context, the individual images of rape are a bitter pill to swallow indeed. The rape scenes featuring sodomy and irrumatio while only showing the thrusting pelvises are extremely rough and hard to take. But taken in the context of a revenge story, the vicious aspects of such scenes are more tolerable.

Albert Pyun has set out to get a reaction from his audience, and BULLETFACE succeeds. This is not a film for the faint or the tender of heart. It packs a serious punch and begs a second viewing because of all of the characters and varying nuances in the plot. It is a boundary-pusher that remains strong in its resolve. It also ends on a note that leaves it open for a franchise. BULLETFACE wants you thinking about it, and I have been doing just that for the past few days.

-Mediasaurus Rex



Check out BULLETFACE and more at Albert Pyun's Official Website

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