Steve Mena’s first feature demonstrates promise and is written well, suffers a bit from wooden performances, but is still a solid low budget creeper.
DIRECTOR: Steve Mena
CAST: R. Brandon Johnson, Samantha Dark, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
MPAA RATING: R
For the most part, slasher films are a dime a dozen. Very few are able to stand out from the crowd in any way. Those of us who love horror and were raised on slasher films might love them, but we all know that most of them adhere to a strict formula and that most of the them seem to have been made under the belief that as long as they adhere to that formula, the film makers will be giving us what we want. Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t make the film, and there are too many low budget slasher films of inferior quality out there. MALEVOLENCE adds something to that formula and is written well enough to make itself a stand out among low budget slashers.
Steven Mena, the writer/director of MALEVOLENCE, succeeds in making his film a cut above the rest by doing something extremely simple, focusing as much (probably more) on character than he does on the blood shed. He takes the time to tell an actual story. The film never comes across as an excuse to throw blood at the camera, get women naked or make jokes about stereotypes. He also succeeds by opening the film with something unexpected that gives the audience every possible reason to continue to follow the story and signals that there is more going on with this film than just running through a checklist of tropes and cliches to meet the requirements a distributor gave him in order to release the film. Mena loves slasher films, and loves a good story, and it shows.
MALEVOLENCE starts with a premise that isn’t ground breaking, but that works none the less. Mena actually goes through the trouble of showing it to us, instead of telling us about it. The story essentially follows four people who’ve robbed a bank and are supposed to rendezvous at an out of the way, abandoned house in the country. Things go wrong, and then they get murderous.
One of the interesting aspects of MALEVOLENCE that helps to make it so interesting is that it treats it’s villain as a whole character. He’s not a legend or myth or some kind of supernaturally imbued uber murderer. He is a man, and he has a story. Mena alludes to that story in interesting ways, which helps to give the story a dimension many slasher films are missing. There’s an actual interest in him, we want to know more and what we do learn has some weight and emotional depth.
The rest of the characters are all relatively well drawn, and sensible. There is a whole lot less of the kind of forehead slapping stupidity in this film than can be found in most slashers. The characters actions make sense given their place in the film and the information they have. Amazingly, the majority of the characters in the film have some kind of back story and don’t necessarily come across as having been written into the script for no other reason than to be fodder for the killer.
There are really only two things that hold MALEVOLENCE back. It looks exactly as low budget as it is. It’s not badly shot in that the cinematography is bad, because the shots are framed in a way to either convey the most information or to give the maximum effect to whatever it is that scene is meant to highlight, but the lack of a budget is written all over everything on screen. On it’s own, that might not be such a problem, but it seems as if it’s exaggerated by the other problem with MALEVOLENCE. There are some really wooden, lifeless performances in the film. That may not be something that can be passed off on Steven Mena because one of the things that a budget can buy is an experienced cast, and it seems like this cast isn’t very experienced. Either way, the two things do work together in way that create moments where the lack of a budget just jumps off the screen and instead of thinking about the characters and story, that’s what audience members will be focusing on.
What is clear by the end of MALEVOLENCE, is that in spite of a poor cast and a seriously low budget, Steven Mena can still write a good story, and still has the ability to get the best of that across, even when hobbled by those problems. He’s also in the midst of creating one of the more compelling slasher villains to have come around in a long time. Should he continue with this level of quality, and get his hands on a bigger budget (which it seems he does in the films sequel), he could be building a mythology for a new icon in horror. For those fans of the slasher genre in general, keep your eyes and ears open, and there are definitely a few things thrown in here just for you.
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