Bull (Neil Maskell) is a top enforcer in a criminal gang. A brutal and merciless thug on the streets, yet a caring and doting father at home. His boss, Norm (David Hayman), also happens to be his father-in-law. So, when Bull’s relationship with his wife turns sour, both his livelihood and well-being are put at risk. A dispute over custody of Bull’s son turns nasty and he is attacked and left for dead. Ten years later, Bull returns home to exact bloody vengeance on those who betrayed him.
Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton, The Cottage), Bull is told in both the present day and via flashback. It drip feeds us backstory, showing us intriguing, ambiguous snippets that allow us to formulate an implied idea of what happened. As the story unfolds with more clarity, the pieces fall nicely into place and we start to see the full picture.
Bull is a violent and angry revenge movie that does not shy away from the gruesome lengths to which our protagonist goes to apply vengeance. As he tracks down his former friends and accomplices in his downfall, Bull’s methods are remorseless and extreme. Genre fans will delight in seeing Neil Maskell on the rampage, but it’s probably fair to say that the levels of violence on display means Bull is just as likely to alienate as excite its audience.
There are two obvious movies with which Bull fits thematically and stylistically. It shares a similarity to Shane Meadow’s gripping revenge drama Dead Man’s Shoes that would be cruel to call derivative, but certainly colours within the same lines. Likewise, it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (arguably the best horror movie of the 00s) as both feature Neil Maskell raging at everything. Bull is filmed in a similar style with a downbeat social drama aesthetic and contrasts the mundanity of its Middle England setting with ugly violence and simmering anger.
Meanwhile, Maskell is excellent. His performance has more in common with the quiet, reserved menace of his character, Arby, in Utopia than the volatile, raw nerve of Kill List‘s Jay, but he remains riveting to watch. He escalates Bull from cold dispassion to sudden, monstrous rage like an English Tony Soprano. If there’s another actor who can exude complete and utter menace in the same way as Maskell, I’m unaware.
Bull largely follows a classic revenge movie template, which is no bad thing. But credit where it’s due: it does attempt to break the mould and do something different as the full story gradually reveals itself. It doesn’t entirely work, but at least it makes things interesting.
Bull‘s perpetually angry outlook means its broad appeal is debatable. Not everyone is going to want to watch 88 minutes of seething, irate rage. However, Maskell’s performance is electric and will likely sway any fence-sitters, while seasoned horror fans and revenge movie aficionados will definitely enjoy Bull‘s crude but effective methods of justice.