Stream to Scream: “MALEVOLENCE”
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Stevan Mena’s slasher throwback MALEVOLENCE.
In a previous Stream to Scream, this writer took on Stevan Mena’s BEREAVEMENT, and while the film didn’t exactly work, I found there was significant potential in Mena’s direction. Having finally seen MALEVOLENCE, the dichotomy between Mena’s focused direction and his awkward writing is both fascinating and ultimately disappointing.
MALEVOLENCE may be nowhere near as brutal or as sadistic as its successor, but it’s more successful at being genuinely creepy. Mena has an inherent understanding of what makes the slasher subgenre so effective, working both towards and against expectations set forth by his influences. Yet it’s this understanding that is Mena’s creative burden as well, as the scariest sequences in the film are either derivative of past iconic horror films (particularly, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II) or are generic in design. This aspect also hurts the overall story structure, leaving the bookending sequences out of step with the satisfying main story and sticking out like a cinematic sore thumb.
Giving credit where it’s rightfully due, MALEVOLENCE does do remarkably well with its story within the strict confines of its budget. Pitting unwitting bank robbers and their hostages against a ruthless killer in an impromptu safe house is an admittedly fun concept, and Mena impressively wrangles colorful characters through standard slasher fare dialogue. Furthermore, even if the horror wreaks of familiarity, Mena’s execution of the film’s scariest moments are nevertheless commendable.
Perhaps MALEVOLENCE gets most of its appeal from an underlying ambition from Mena that works in parallel with its identifiable old-school horror mechanisms. For instance, the prolonged “someone is behind you” trick is one of the oldest in the book, yet is so far removed from jump-scare heavy modern horror that it’s refreshing in a nostalgic sense this time around. Additionally, Tsuyoshi Kimoto’s cinematography and Mena’s score are very old fashioned, using bold colors for several sequences and often feeling reminiscent of backwoods horror of the ’70s.
But if MALEVOLENCE is a sum of its influences, what does that mean for the audience? Outside of the occasional thrill, the film and its painfully predictable story don’t bring much to the table that we haven’t seen before. Across the board, the performances are certainly strong, but the characters are lacking such substance and motivation that their untimely demises are almost cathartic. This affects the pacing of the film as a whole, as the homogenized story structure leaves the film inundated with half-thoughts and an aggravating succession of anticlimaxes.
Despite all of its flaws, MALEVOLENCE does work better than BEREAVEMENT, even considering the polished look and more experienced cast of the latter. The film is low-rent fun as Mena’s ambition to deliver old-school scares that resonate on a minuscule budget makes the effort even more worthwhile. MALEVOLENCE hasn’t changed the slasher subgenre, but it does know what strings to pull and when, making it a scary selection for a dark and stormy night.