Muscle

****

Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan

Muscle
"This is another downward spiralling character piece with the same bruising toughness of its predecessor, but handled with a tauter, darkly playful control." | Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights

Director Gerard Johnson specialises in examinations of a certain kind of tortured masculinity. Hyena was a grizzly Bad Lieutenant-style character study of a police officer that gravitated towards bleakness.

If it suggested Johnson’s ideas weren’t always as strong as his attraction to his characters’ murkiest corners, Muscle shows progress. This is another downward spiralling character piece with the same bruising toughness of its predecessor, but handled with a tauter, darkly playful control. Consistently attention-grabbing, Johnson knows how to keep you guessing.

Shot in clean black and white (a little Bait-like grain would have gone a long way), Muscle follows crushed, middle-aged telesales worker Simon (a fine Paul Giamatti-ish turn from Cavan Clerkin - who won an award for his trouble at Tallinn Black Nights), tired of a job he’s failing at and wondering what his life has become.

Dejected and filled with sedate self-loathing, he’d rather focus his energies on drinking than talk to his partner. Presumably, he feels he has nothing worthwhile to say but she, in turn, goads him for keeping the same job rather than look for a better option. Worse for Simon, when he takes his top off, she mocks his dad-bod physique.

It sends him straight into the hands of Terry (an imposing Craig Fairbrass), a personal trainer with a bottomless supply of sniggering banter and manipulative coercion. “Fuck fit, you wanna be big and you wanna be strong," shouts Terry in between motivational chants like "C’mon you cunts!" A tower of unreconstructed masculinity, oblivious to modern debates on redefining manliness, brawny uber-mensch Terry is all-id to Simon’s tyrannical super-ego. Encouraging him to embrace his baser instincts, after one office eruption-cum-breakdown, Terry congratulates him on “becoming a real man".

When Simon’s partner leaves him, it leaves the door open for Terry to take over, turning Muscle into a kind of cringingly tense, hand-in-mouth take on the Mysterious Stranger genre, with psychopathic, seductive Terry pushing Simon to his limits. It gives Johnson the chance to tease, edging further and further towards the comically, tragically perverse. A visceral watch that gets under your skin in the best ways.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2019
Share this with others on...
Muscle packshot
A directionless call centre salesman gets more than he bargained for when he joins a local gym


Search database: