Malevolence 2004 Review
Directed by: Stevan Mena
Starring: R. Brandon Johnson, Samantha Dark, Heather Magee
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Ok, so I’ve got a bit of a confession to make. The fact that I run a SLASH above and often post a plethora of the rarest entries here kind of gives the impression that I’ve seen them all, doesn’t it? Well, despite its reputation for being one of the most highly commended titles of the early noughties, I hadn’t watched Malevolence until last night. Shock! Horror! (I was going to mention that I haven’t viewed Haute Tension yet either but that’s enough surprises for one review ;))
Released initially as the mid-entry of a trilogy, Stevan Mena’s debut quickly became a fan favourite amongst collectors. A prequel hit shelves in 2010, called Bereavement, which further developed the background of Martin Bristol, the series’ villain. There’s currently a third chapter in production that looks set to be completed later this year. The photos of a killer in a Burlap Sack that I’d seen had led me to believe this was something of a Killer in the Woods/Friday the 13th rip off. I was startled to learn that it’s nothing of the sort…
After a typical genre opening (steadicam up to a house, a merciless killing), the film goes into Satan’s Blade territory with the unusual inclusion of a bank robbery. A group of down and outs pull off a daring heist that owes a damn site more to Reservoir Dogs than it perhaps should have, but manages to work well considering the restraints of the budget. After some tense twists and turns, the gang of thieves (and two hostages) end up stranded in an abandoned house. They soon learn that they are not alone, because they have entered the domain of a vicious killer who is intent on slaughtering them.
Of all the 311 reviews that I’ve posted here on the site, the one that splits readers the most is Tyler Tharpe’s Freak from 1996. I gave it a three-star rating and praised it’s method of story development and character driven plot. Many of you agreed, whilst some, quite blatantly, didn’t. It’s fair to say that this feature includes a lot more action than Tharpe’s slasher, but I did notice shades of the same slow-boiling and gritty approach. Aside from that slight similarity, I can’t think of another slasher movie that I can accurately compare with Malevolence. Sure, it has a handful of nods to Halloween (sound cues are almost cut and pasted) and a killer guise that resembles Jason Voorhees’ from Friday the 13th Part II, but aside from that it’s unlike anything that I’ve seen previously. During the first twenty minutes, a group of intriguing personalities are placed in engrossing scenarios that are shot creatively with sublime camera placement. The initial tale of criminals trying to pull off a score meant that we were only made aware that this was a horror film by the odd chime of a low chord and a growing undercurrent of dread. I could sense the kind of eerie peculiarity that is often found in Asian horror titles such as The Ring or Ju-on. It’s not that Mena was attempting to particularly mimic that style, but the grim aura of doom that surrounds characters that are untypical of slasher trademarks, creates a novel tone.
It could be said that the director takes some risks with his filmmaking style; – especially in the way he invests deeply in the background of his story. Thankfully, those risks just about pay off and the film rolls through a crescendo of moods to maintain the uniqueness. Humans have a morbid fascination with abandoned places, such as Prypriat for example, and Mena seems to recognise this by setting the majority of the horror in a large dilapidated farmhouse. The scenes where the camera probes the vacant rooms and picks up on discarded objects from past memories are really quite creepy. He compliments this distinctive imagery with a smart use of sharp sounds and lighting. Whilst there isn’t really a stand-out score, our senses are kept constantly alert by the squawk of a crow or the sudden impact of bush crickets wurring from the surrounding wildlife. I’ve seen scattered comments about the lack of killings and it’s true that there are very few, but the couple that we are given are handled surprisingly well. Mena pays tribute to Carpenter’s methodology of the background placement of his silently ominous antagonist and the killer looks great in what can best be described as an ‘almost Burlap Sack.’
The plot point of having criminals on the run brought to mind Hitchcock’s Psycho and the film works along the same lines of constantly re-adjusting your evaluations. If I had any complaint at all, it would be that much like Freak, there is a certain level of attention needed to really enjoy the feature and gore hounds may grow frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get going. With that said, there’s so much that’s creatively delivered about the film that I could overlook the minor negatives and the shoddy-ish acting.
I had heard good things about Malevolence and to be honest I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. It’s much easier to fill a film with nudity and gore than it is to provide craft. Mena delivers a slasher that is not only smartly put together and nicely shot, but it also tries something different and that makes it stand out.