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October 20, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #94 - Malevolence

I just recently saw Malevolence for the first - and soon after second time.  Two parts of me think I'm in love with it, one part of me thinks I'm overreacting to it, and one part of me thinks that part of me that thinks I'm overreacting is a "poopy head".  Outside of the obvious conclusion that I am split into (at least) quadrants, the question remains: What the heck is going on with this Malevolence flick?
Released in 2004, Malevolence doesn't look like much more than your everyday average indie slasher film from the outside.  I must admit, I passed the DVD box on many stores' shelves hundreds of times, because nothing about it really jumped out at me at all.  It was your average "shiny" packaging from Anchor Bay - back when they brought the thunder to the horror-on-DVD scene - which often was designed to hide something far less shiny on the inside.  With little information except a NY Times quote claiming the film was "fittingly malevolent" (Gee, thanks for the redundancy, Chet?  How would you explain Psycho?), I let the film be until recently when I started hearing buzz about a newly released prequel - Bereavement - which has garnered some awfully positive buzz from horror fans.  I wanted to see that movie, so I had to see its forefather first, even though no one seemed to really say anything good about Malevolence.
Like my inner monologue about the film's quality, Malevolence is a disjointed little horror tale.  The opening features a bit of torture and brutality that's one part Texas Chainsaw and one part Hostel, and I have to admit that my initial impression of the film was not positive.  Something like "Oh geez, not another one of these mean little pointless torture movies!" went through my mind as we watch a young woman gutted in front of an innocent child witness.  The film promptly shifts gears after a title sequence, introducing a group of criminals who botch a robbery and a single mother and daughter (lets face it, no one in horror has a kid and stays married) who cross paths with the desperate failed robbers.  They hide out in the countryside at a seemingly abandoned house near a seemingly abandoned slaughterhouse and seemingly things obviously aren't gonna end well for most of them.
And that's when the slashery part of the film kicked in - and, against type, when I kinda started to fall for Malevolence.  If you've ever read this silly site before, y'all know that I looooovvvvveee to complain about slasher movies and how they all ripped off Halloween and how they're not even real movies anyway - even though I kinda love watching slashers.  Malevolence doesn't shake that perception - in fact it's often a blatant homage to John Carpenter's masterpiece of slashing - but I found it all shockingly well done.  We've seen these settings and situations before, but director Stevan Mena has a really cool vision that kept me involved in the film.  Sure, that might be because it apes John Carpenter's vision - but there are worse crimes a slasher director could commit.
Of course, the best thing Mena does by following Carpenter's lead is that he keeps his film dark in tone throughout.  You can forget gratuitous nudity or comical partying or random silliness, Mena's film maintains that dark tone that the opening scene gave us for a strong 85 minutes.  There's one silly tacked on moment near the end of the film, but it's followed by a final scare that I quite liked.  And, the truth of the matter is that - when Malevolence is at its most tense and dark shadows become a killer with a pillowcase over his head and an effective musical score (also by Mena) jumps in - Malevolence might be the most physically tense slasher film I've seen since Halloween. 
Unlike the inexperienced criminals that began the film as villains - that's one of them holding a gun to the girl's head in the image I posted above - the stalking killer works very well in Malevolence.  He doesn't appear like Myers would have in Halloween, vanishing as needed and taking on a boogeyman form, but the reveal of what he is and how he ties into that brutal opening scene is an interesting reveal.  I'm not quite sure it works entirely in the context of this film - Bereavement, which I'll probably cover one of these days, ties up the loose ends incredibly well - but it adds a unique scene to the end of the film that makes sense out of the rest of the film's heavy tone.
I guess I might be able to convince me to admit that Malevolence isn't a great movie - the actors aren't great and there are a few lulls - but its best moments are really friggin' good.  This is a far better movie than its standard slasher appearance lets on, and I'm willing to give it a pass for some of its faults.  Malevolence hit me perfectly on a primal level, and stands as a fine debut for a talented filmmaker who I'm gonna keep my eye on.  Next time I'm needing some late night creeps from a slasher film, I'm probably gonna consider Malevolence (and/or Bereavement) seriously, because Mena does Carpenter really well. 

1 comment:

Matt-suzaka said...

I actually own Malevolence on DVD but haven't seen it since it was released. I remember liking it well enough, but it's one of those movies that almost completely escapes me. I've been wanting to give it a rewatch at some point, and after reading your high praise, that time may come sooner rather than later.