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'Bullhead' Review: 'Roid Rage Drama Delivers Breakout Belgian Star


“Bullhead” is a grim Belgian movie about the illicit trade in agricultural growth hormones. Subtitled, of course. What’s not to like, right?

And yet the film is very much worth seeing for the great, smoldering performance of its star, Matthias Schoenaarts, playing a rural brute with a hideous affliction.

Schoenaarts’ character, Jacky Vanmarsenille, unmarried and lonely in his mid-thirties, still lives with his parents on their cattle farm, where illegal hormones have always been used to expedite the growth of steers, hastening them on their way to profitable early slaughter. Jacky also has a personal interest in growth hormones–he’s addicted to steroids, which have enabled him to bulk up to fearsome proportions. (We see him sitting naked in his room, like a hunk of ancient statuary, shooting up his drug and then shadowboxing with unseen opponents.)

Jacky’s backstory is uniquely disturbing. Twenty years earlier, when he was just a kid, he and his best friend, Diederik, crossed the path of a group of teenage toughs led by a budding psychopath named Bruno (played with scary conviction by David Murgia). Jacky was smitten with Bruno’s younger sister, Jeanne, whom Bruno was in the habit of pimping out to local farmboys. An altercation ensued and, in a spectacularly horrific scene, we see how Bruno attacked Jacky and left him half dead. Diederick was prevented by his nervous father from telling the police what happened, and so the incident was dismissed as a simple accident. Jacky and Diederik became estranged, and didn’t speak for years.

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