It’s that marvelous time of year in Hollywood. Halloween draws near. Horror and genre films are highlighted. And Beyondfest returns to blow our minds with premieres, revival screenings, and kick-ass shows! To start things with a brain-busting bang, opening night was the west coast premiere of Bone Tomahawk writer/director/composer S. Craig Zahler’s latest offering, Brawl In Cell Block 99.

I would like to caution that this review may contain some minor spoilers.

Brawl follows Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a down on his luck former fighter who is fired from his job as a tow trucker the same day he finds out his wife, Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) has been cheating on him. Desperate, and wanting to keep his family together, Bradley finds a new line of work as a drug runner. His wife apologizes, they live in a nice home together, and all seems to finally be going well. But after a pick-up goes wrong, Bradley finds himself behind bars in medium security for several years. To make matters worse, his former employers tell him to track down a man in maximum security and kill him as a reprisal… or else. With little choice, Bradley Thomas must fight his way into the deepest bowels of the penal system.

That’s about as bare a synopses as I can give, and this is definitely the type of movie you want to go into as blindly as possible. Much like Bone TomahawkBrawl is a masterwork in building tension before exploding in beautifully choreographed displays of violence and brutality. So, while it isn’t necessarily an action sequence a minute, when push comes to shove, you will be knocked to the back of your seat. Once again, Zahler shows his skills as every conversation and dialogue Bradley has with supporting characters can be rather riveting, such as a his tense refusal when a CO tries to get Bradley to join the prison boxing league.

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The film features a well built ensemble cast, with Vince Vaughn taking the lead. Though his attempts to move out of comedy and toward more dramatic roles such as in season 2 of True Detective have been met with mixed success, this will definitely go down as the movie that cements Vaughn’s abilities. We learn a minimal amount of Bradley Thomas’ backstory, but Vaughn truly introduces us to the character and tells us more about him from his demeanor and course of actions than any flashback could. Not to mention you will be borderline frightened of just what Vaughn is capable of after watching Brawl. Jennifer Carpenter works well off of Vaughn’s character, giving the fighting juggernaut an emotional and human anchor outside of his gritty life and with an edge of her own. As well, Don Johnson and Udo Kier have prominent and quite memorable supporting roles throughout, and are their peak in terms of acting threateningly.

The film is evocative of a lot of prison, crime, and grindhouse films of the 60’s and 70’s, with a funky and catchy soundtrack composed by Zahler as the cherry on top.

So, if you’re game for a well paced fistfight through prison, I would highly recommend turning yourself in for Brawl In Cell Block 99 when it comes out on October 6th.

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