R. Brandon Johnson
John Richard Ingram
horror slasher thriller
Trivia Malevolence won the best feature award at the 2003 New York City Horror Film Festival.
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16th Sep 05
A bank robbery goes wrong and the survivors hold up in a deserted farmhouse next to a disused slaughterhouse. Actually, it's not entirely disused.
Old School is a dangerous phrase to use these days. So is homage. Too easily can these phrases be banded around to describe things with a ‘retro’ feel (oops – there’s another phrase to watch) just because they play out a bit like films we’ve seen before. But what does it mean? Well, there are two ways to look it at. The positive outlook is that films that feel like movies we’ve seen before are tipping their hat – paying respect if you will – to the old classics that we know and love, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the negative way is to conclude that young aspiring filmmakers these days can’t come up with any good ideas of their own so just copy other peoples. Of course, the reality of the situation is that all films these days fall a little bit into both these traps, but it’s fair to say that different films tip the scales different ways, and that the line between homage and plagiarism is a fine one.
Which brings me nicely on to Malevolence. The film starts with a short and very creepy prologue of a young boy named Martin Bristol being kidnapped and forced to watch unspeakably deranged crimes of the local madman serial killer. Then a short cut scene tells us he’s never seen from again and the story shifts to ten years later. Julian (Brandon Johnson) and Marilyn (Heather Magee) are desperately in debt and hook up with Julian’s brother Max and his shifty associate Kurt (Richard Glover) to do a bank robbery in a small town wearing big scary masks. Naturally it all goes pear shaped and Max gets shot, and the getaway goes wrong too with Kurt being separated from the others, forcing him to kidnap Samantha (Samantha Dark) and her daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone) to use their car to escape.
The post-robbery rendezvous point (Reservoir Dogs has a lot to answer for) they choose is a middle of nowhere deserted farmhouse, and everyone alive heads there. Kurt arrives first with his hostages but, while he’s pissing about with the loot, Courtney wriggles free of her bonds and runs, making it as far as a nearby run down building. Kurt gives chase, but that is to his undoing as the only problem is the building still has one occupant remaining. Let’s just say that’s the last we see of Kurt and Courtney for a while.
Soon enough Julian and Marilyn arrive, but not in particularly high spirits. First off, Max is dead and Marilyn’s having a shit fit about it, blaming Julian. Julian’s pissed off because it’s taken so long to find the place from the dead Max’s dodgy scribbled notes that it’s dark now. So when they do arrive, find a tied up woman, some scattered swag and no Kurt, they break into a big argument. Little do they know that Kurt is the least of their worries now.
The influences behind this movie are obvious. It’s Reservoir Dogs mixed with Friday the 13th part two with shades of Halloween thrown in. Oh, it’s also got a lot of Dead Birds in their too, but different in the sense that the opening sequence in Dead Birds has the robbery graphically depicted in what is arguably the best bit in the movie, whereas this film has no such budget. The robbery involves the cast running through some double doors, a close up of an alarm going off, and the cast running out again. And this is a fundamental problem with the whole movie: the budget. It’s soon very obvious that the cash pumped into this film was minimal; too many scenes involve a lot of yakking and not much at all going on. A homage to dull 80s Slashers? Maybe, but still it can get really dull. “I’ll check upstairs,” one character will say, then spend the next 10 minutes walking ever so slowly from room to room, melodramatically opening doors and what have you to the accompaniment of suitably dramatic music. And then it’s, “there’s nothing there.” Big pause. “What are we going to do?” Big pause. “I don’t know…” Sheesh.
Let’s move on to the look and feel. The whole film is scored by the director Stevan Mena, and it’s a dramatic and effective synth score, but the problem is it’s overused. One minute it’ll be a daylight car ride, and the score will be this booming synth thing, then it’ll be a spooky night time farm yard scene with, you guessed it, the same booming synth thing. The overall effect is that of numbness; as the score crescendos at random time intervals you soon stop trusting them and unconsciously block them out, thus rendering all the walk around with torches sequences quite boring. Bizarrely, the opposite can be said for the more panoramic establishing shots as these are absolutely fantastic. The cinematographer on Malevolence, Tsuyoshi Kimoto, is quite brilliant and half the frames on show wouldn’t look out of place in art house classics like My Own Private Idaho or that movie about cowgirls getting the blues. Look out for the very dark crossroads scene with the sheriff appearing for the first time, driving out of the shadows. It's a doozy, and you can’t help feeling he’s wasted on this gig.
Or at least, that’s what you think for the first hour. You’ll watch the film, curse the wooden acting, learn to hate that effects heavy score and nod off through loads of dull supposition and needless exploration, before you suddenly realise that you’re actually quite gripped. It’s odd how it sneaks up on you, but the last half hour of the movie is actually remarkably good. When the madman serial killer guy starts stalking the house, your attention perks, probably due to one rather nice sequence where an argument is played out with the sack-headed killer starring in through a window while no one notices (except you of course), and the ending builds up quite nicely and slowly, mainly because Samantha Dark gets to act more and she knows what she’s doing, until we reach the finale. It’s predictable, it’s a homage, but it’s still very, very good and will probably send a shiver down your spine.
So there you have it. Malevolence walks the fine line between copycatting old Slasher movies and paying tribute to them, but if you can get through the first hour the pay off is pretty good and probably worth waiting for. Don’t expect too much blood and guts though as this flick is very censor friendly, but there’s enough scary brutality here if you’re into those tense scenes where victims are strung up with tape over their mouths and lots of close ups of very scarred eyes, and I know some of you are.
Versions Released on Anchor Bay in the UK and US. Both discs have the same special features from the looks of things.
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