[Fantasia 2021 Review] BULL
Courtesy of Signature Entertainment

A true parent’s love is an undying powerful thing. Regardless of barriers and obstacles, their love can defeat anything in its path. And, when their child is in danger, watch out. Moving mountains, lighting fires that burn everything in its wake, a true parent will go to any length to ensure their child is okay even if it means spilling blood. We see this very thing play out in Writer/Director Paul Andrew Williams‘ latest BULL. Packaged as a revenge thriller, it’s not long before viewers see the film transform before their eyes. BULL is more than a man taking revenge on those who’ve harmed him. No, it’s a testament to the lengths a parent will go to make sure their child is safe from the cruel realities of life.

After being absent for over a decade, Bull (Neil Maskell) returns to seek revenge for the wrongs committed against him all those years ago. Hunting those involved one by one, it is not long until it is revealed that his true search is for his son, Aiden (Henri Charles). The audience learns about what took place through bits and pieces throughout the film. Learning more about the titular character as well as the strange family dynamics he married into, there is nuance and a connection for the viewer to relate to Bull as we watch him cut a swathe through the guilty parties. This is not a man killing for fun. There is purpose. All he wants is to know his son is okay. And, therein lies one of the film’s many strengths – its stakes.

Shot with a low budget during the pandemic in 18 days, the team had its work cut out for them. However, the hard work and dedication shine through. Neil Maskell is mesmerizing as the titular character, Bull. His character runs the gamut of emotions, but Maskell handles the emotional rollercoaster masterfully; his face betraying nothing but subtle glimpses. An everyman type who has made regretful decisions, Maskell and Williams together craft a man whose motivation is relatable. Though the circumstances are abnormal, each beat makes sense in the moment of the scene. Whether reminiscing of days with his son, Aiden, or laughing hysterically while swirling around in a carnival ride, it’s difficult not to go where Maskell takes us in each scene. For that, a tip of the hat is warranted.

David Hayman in BULL

Continuing with performances, David Hayman is terrifying as Norm. The unspoken man in charge of the community, it is clear through how Hayman chews each scene that his character Norm is not to be trifled with. Yet, the way Williams has written the character, Norm is not a mustache-twirling villain. He is a man, who despite all horrible acts, will do anything to make sure that his daughter, Gemma (Lois Brabin-Platt), is cared for. This even if it means enabling her self-destructive behavior. In some ways, Norm serves as a foil for Bull. There is an extreme side to doing anything for one’s child, which can ultimately serve as their own pathway to damnation. And we see these moments reflected in a couple of flashback sequences between the two characters as the viewers learn more about Bull’s past.

While the production itself was low budget, there was no skimping on the cinematography. Directors of Photography Ben Chads and Vanessa Whyte both provide snapshot moments during the film that easily could lend themselves to photographic artwork. Employing liberal use of angles and colors, especially in the funfair scenes, there is beauty reflected in this otherwise tragedy-filled film. The use of a high-speed camera is visible in a couple of scenes, which could have easily proven distracting if employed unproperly. However, it works for the intended purposes in BULL. As a wrap-up, whatever madness compelled the team to actually shoot in a waltzer, it worked. The scene itself is memorable, creating that feeling of disorientation and madness required for that particular scene. But, for any curious film enthusiast, that scene itself warrants being a fly on the wall to see what all was involved in shooting that moment.

BULL is a grounded revenge thriller that rarely strays off course except, perhaps, in its final five minutes. Whether or not audiences will care for how it ends is up for debate. As a twist, it did seem a bit sudden and would have benefited from further hints leading up to that point. However, as a whole, Paul Andrew Williams has crafted a compelling revenge thriller. Keeping the violence from veering to outlandish places lends itself well, keeping viewers invested while also providing startling brutality that makes us want to look away. And, even as Bull further descends into a spiral of violence as he continues to find his son, Maskell and Williams both work hard to develop a character that is sympathetic and relatable to audiences. That in itself is a boon in a subgenre that has birthed many an unsympathetic main character.

BULL had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The film will be released in the UK by Signature Entertainment later this year. Stay tuned with news on its US distribution and release date!

Sarah Musnicky
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