Horror and comedic absurdity have always been harmonious with one another...
...Once the B movie and trashy grindhouse cinema became a revered formula of nostalgia, filmmakers began emulating their charms with mixed success. Sometimes these self-aware parodies prove to be insanely entertaining, inspiring young film buffs to discover massive back catalogues of pioneers like Roger Corman, Robert Rodriguez, and Sam Rami. On the other hand, that throwback satire humor can also be irritatingly self-admiring and cutesy, more concerned with winking at the audience than telling a fun story. Writer/director Valeri Milev has a clear affinity for genre films; his newest project, Bullets of Justice, authentically captures the unapologetic gratuity of the alternative B movie. Milev’s vision is ambitious, which is always exciting to see, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
In a word, Bullets of Justice is absolutely bonkers. We find ourselves thrust into a dystopian conflict between humans and…pig people. Essentially, our government created a special project suitably called “Army Bacon,” which consists of interbreeding pigs and humans to form a super soldier. These soldiers were designed to aid America in the Third World War, but wouldn’t you know, the abominations grew to overthrow their creators. Fast forward 20 years later and Earth is ruled by the bipedal pigs, now referred to as “Muzzles,” and humans are under occupation. Not only do the Muzzles have complete control, but they also harvest, package, and sell human meat to their peers. Amidst all near unbearable conditions, our hero, Rob Justice (Timur Turisbekov), is part of a small group of resistance fighters who hide from the Muzzles in an underground bunker. Rob is determined to face the tyrannical enemy but must discover the Muzzles’ weaknesses in order to destroy them.
Let’s get one thing out of the way; despite what the poster art may suggest, Danny Trejo is not a lead character in this film. He plays “Grave-digger,” who is the father of Rob Justice. If I were to guesstimate, I’d say he has around five minutes of screen time. This is a trend I’ve observed for quite a long time now, and while I completely understand this from a marketing standpoint, I really wish Trejo was given better and more prominent roles. Despite his brevity, his small appearances throughout the film are some of the funniest. There are plenty of funny gags in the film, too. One of the captured Muzzles is named Benedict Asshole, and for good reason. Benedict’s mouth is in the undeniable shape of a human anus. It’s bad taste, sure, but all of my maturity went out the window when subtitles translated his flatulent language. It’s low brow stuff, but it brought out audible laughter, so it really doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, the entire film is not a steady stream of knee slappers. One of the film’s biggest issues is inconsistency of humor. For every joke that lands, there are about three to follow that don’t. It’s not that I found them offensive, they were just either awkwardly delivered or not that clever to begin with. The failed attempts play kind of like watching a stand-up comic telling an unfunny joke and because the audience isn’t laughing, you feel embarrassed for them. Also, the film is structured like a satire or farce, but you’re left wondering what it is they are commentating on. What is this a satire of? Still, the bits that do land are usually pretty damn funny, and actually laughing out loud is a rarity I gladly welcomed.
Uneven humor isn’t the only offender here. Bullets of Justice has a story that is all over the place, and in more ways than one. The story itself is needlessly convoluted, when it could have easily been simplified to service the film’s stronger assets. There are several scenes filled with info dumps from characters you’ll only see once, and it’s the kind of exposition that confuses more than informs. It all comes down to the classic “show, don’t tell” narrative lesson that Bullets could have greatly benefitted from. The arrangement of scenes feels random at times and this only muddies up an already borderline incoherent story. While the set pieces are unquestionably impressive, it seems like they were designed before the story and script had been ironed out. Nothing quite flows here and, I think, had they tightened their script and the arrangement of their scenes, the overcomplicated story would be more forgivable.
What Bullets lacks in narrative structure and story, it makes up for in style, aesthetic, and special effects. From the first frame, it’s clear this is a visual vanity project, and I mean that in every positive respect. Milev is clearly a man with a vision from the looks of it, he spared no expense to make sure that vision was realized. The camerawork is intentionally a rough and tumble affair with handheld shaky cam action sequences, but unlike other films that do this, you can actually tell what’s going on in Bullets. I really appreciated this, as it’s no doubt a challenge to convey both the frenetic energy of action and the coherency of what’s actually happening. The costumes and makeup are strikingly impressive. The war-torn dystopian resistance fighters are garbed in more than just rags and tourniquets. Each character has a distinct look, but it all feels like it’s of the same bleak and doomed universe. If I had to use familiar referencing to describe it, think Escape from L.A. meets steampunk. It’s fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed fawning over the design. The real showstoppers though, are the Muzzles themselves. The base design of a Muzzle is simple looking enough, but when they’re covered in blood, shit, and god knows what else, their strikingly offensive look is complete. To double back to good ole’ Benedict Asshole, I attribute most of his hilarity to his design. It’s disgusting, but if you’ve ever wondered what an anatomically correct anus would look like on a pig-faced science experiment, (haven’t you?) this is the pinnacle of representations. All joking aside, this is a gorgeous film in all respects, and I would be hard pressed to think of another film this year that is visually superior.
Bullets of Justice makes a lot of missteps. The plot is a chore to follow, several jokes fall flat, and it ultimately feels like a mishmash of ideas that weren’t properly focused. Despite these misgivings, this is a marvel to look at and I will confidently recommend this on that aspect alone. It’s really that good. To the more niche crowd of special effects nuts out there, this is a must-see. It’s deeply flawed, but I doubt you’re going to get another chance to see a pig-face man with an asshole for a mouth, so obviously, you don’t want to miss out.
Bullets of Justice comes to VOD from The Horror Collective on October 15th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth