Written and Directed by: Stevan Mena
Starring: Samantha Dark, Courney Bertolone, Heather Magee, and Richard Glover
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"No one gets out alive."
There are some films that wear their influences on their sleeve; films like Hatchet, for example, which promised a return to "Old School American Horror" and featured horror titans strewn throughout the film, blatantly declare their love of horror and revel in the genres cliches. While there is certainly a place for these tounge-in-cheek affairs, there are other, lesser-heralded recent ventures that didn't claim nearly as much hype, yet managed to deliver something that truly feels like a return to a 70s or 80s slasher aesthetic. Malevolence is one such effort, and while it is not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, it is a nicely crafted horror film that is obviously influenced by some of the genre's most popular films.
Like many slasher films, the story is quite simple. At the beginning of the film, we learn that a young boy named Martin Bristol mysteriously disappeared from his home. We then flash ahead about ten years, where we meet a couple that have become mixed up with a band of bank robbers who are planning a heist that will end with everyone meeting at an abandoned house in the countryside. However, one of the robber's getaway vehicle gets trashed, which forces him to carjack and kidnap a mother and a daughter. When the latter manages to escape the safehouse, she unwittingly stumbles upon a slaughterhouse that is the home of a brutal serial killer who decides to terrorize all involved.
So, the plot is a bit more complicated than a bunch of teens gathering for a slaughter at a summer camp; however, the film pretty much does play out like a slasher out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre mold. It's not so much a body count splatter film like Friday the 13th and its ilk because there's really only a handful of kills throughout the entire film. Instead, the film focuses much more on a desolate atmosphere and suspenseful storytelling. In this respect, the film is tightly constructed, as there's only tiny bit of excess to the narrative. For the most part, however, everything stays to the brutal point, and the film comes in at a lean 85 minutes.
Besides the lean plot, the film's other strengths are Mena's direction and Tsuyoshi Kimoto's cinematography, which often highlight the film's desolate setting. There are several shots of the setting sun and the empty, foreboding woods that contribute to the film's creepy, isolated atmosphere. There are even some shots that are drenched in a blue hue, which is obviously reminiscent of Dean Cundey's cinematography in Halloween. Overall, the film looks like it could be thirty years old, as it lacks the modern gloss and slick editing techniques of its contemporaries. While there's a place in the world for films like Hatchet (modern advances are an inevitability, after all), it's nice to see an unpretentious call back to classic slashers. This means Malevolence is not ground-breaking, but it is something that you don't find on the shelves very often these days. Of course, its relative lack of buzz and monetary success also speak to the difficulties of getting a film like this produced and remind us why so many big-budget films are glossy and slickly produced.
Another strong point of the film is Mena's use of the killer, who resembles Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th Part II (and, in turn, the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown). Also, just as the early Friday the 13th films kept Jason hidden of screen or relegated to fleeting appearances in the frame, the killer here does not take center stage very often. Instead, the killer remains in the shadows and is only occasionally interjected into the frame. As someone who prefers this style of filmmaking, I was glad to see such a technique employed here. Though I said the film isn't quite as pretentious as Hatchet's marketing made it out to be, it's clear that Mena has essentially crafted a love letter to early slasher films like Halloween and the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which relied on well-crafted suspense and atmospheric direction.
The film's score is perhaps its most obvious example of pastiche, as it sounds like Mena essentially took the scores from Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween and mixed them together to create a score that's both moody and intense in its own right. Its highlights are an excellent slow piano theme that's reminiscent of Charles Bernstein's Nightmare theme and the Halloween inspired stingers. On the other side of the spectrum, however, is the film's lone major weakness: the acting. While this is certainly not the worst I've ever seen, it's not the strongest, either. The bank robbers are the main culprits here, as the mother and daughter are decently acted. That said, I'd really like to see what Mena could do with a better set of actors, and that won't take long, as his recently-released follow up, Brutal Massacre, features the likes of Brian O'Halloran, David Naughton, and Ken Foree. Likewise, Mena's sequel to Malevolence, the aptly-titled Malevolence: Bereavement, will feature Michael Biehn and will apparently act as the prequel to the original film.
Malevolence was essentially a direct-to-video release from Anchor Bay (it did get a very limited theatrical run), and the film's initial release stands as its only one so far. The DVD is a good one, as the presentation is decent: the video isn't anything to write home about and is a bit soft, but it gets the job done, while the 5.1 soundtrack is very aggressive and makes good use of all of your speakers. The DVD is packed with features that include a featurette on the creation of the movie, an audio commentary with Mena, rehearsal footage, deleted scenes, and the trailers and TV spots. All in all, this is a good package, especially since it can be found for less than ten bucks. However, even a bare-bones release would be worth your while. Created as the middle part of what could be an interesting slasher trilogy, Malevolence is one of the best independent horror films that I've seen in the last few years. Buy it!
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