Early in Steven Mena’s “Malevolence”, debt-ridden 20-something Julian (Brandon Johnson) is hesitant to commit a bank robbery set up by his manipulative girlfriend Marilyn (Heather Magee) and her ex-con brother Max (Keith Chambers). Once talked into the crime (Marilyn uses a combination of prodding, goading, and seduction), Julian and the two siblings arrive at the bank, guns in hand. In order to conceal their identities, Max brings along horror masks, to which Marilyn complains that she wanted a Snow White mask (one of the film’s intentionally funny moments).
Here’s the kicker: the threesome, with the aid of a fourth accomplice, performs the robbery in 2 minutes (as planned), races out of the bank, and then has to run a great length down the sidewalk to their parked getaway car. (Why didn’t they park closer to the bank? Good question.) In doing so, both Julian and Marilyn pull off their masks while in full view of the public. This, of course, means everyone they’re running past — which totals quite a bit of people, not surprisingly, as the bank is located Downtown — can see their faces. Which begs the question: Why wear masks in the first place if you were just going to pull them off in front of a dozen eyewitnesses?
The characters in Mena’s independent horror film may not be the usual lot of drunken and horny college students on Spring Break, but they’re still predictable spam fodder. Further convincing the audience that these bank robbers are not criminal masterminds, one of the robbers find himself on foot after his getaway car blows a tire in the open road. He decides to commandeer a van belonging to soccer mom Samantha (Samantha Dark) and her daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone). (Way to be creative with the character names, guys.) Which leads to this: although he’s already exposed his face to the girl, the robber nevertheless pulls his mask (a white pillowcase with holes for eyes, which you’d think would offer poor peripheral vision, but I digress) over his head anyway to await the mother’s return to the van. Which begs the question: if the girl already saw your face, why do you care if the mother sees your face, too?
Or, more importantly, if you were going to carjack a van in the parking lot of a gas station with other people around, why would you pull a white pillowcase over your face and attract attention? Then again, logic has no room in “Malevolence”, a low-budget horror film that is actually quite nice to look at in spots, if only it didn’t offer up such a poor script as companion. Another example: after carjacking the mother and daughter, our robber continues to keep the pillowcase on his head as they drive down the road, where he can be spotted by anyone driving by in the opposite lane. Later, after taking his hostages to the rundown house where he plans to meet his fellow thieves, the robber continues to keep his pillowcase on. Why? I can only surmise that he’s hoping the girl, who I should remind you has already seen his face, might somehow lose her memory. Hey, it makes more sense than the movie.
Unquestionably derivative of just about every Teen Slasher to surface in the ’70s and ’80s, in particular John Carpenter’s seminal “Halloween” (aped here through various techniques, including odious synthesizer music), it’s possible “Malevolence” can lay claim to being homage, if only it wasn’t such a poor film. The girl does manage to escape her captor (need I remind you that he’s not very bright?), and flees to a nearby house that is even more rundown than the house the robbers are using. One look at the house’s exterior, with its creepy atmosphere and even creepier accompanying music, and there’s little doubt that evil — or at least a hooded killer with a big knife — resides within.
Unfortunately Mena has brought only five people to the party, and our moron robber/hostage taker takes a knife to the chest around the 30-minute mark. This leaves reluctant robber Julian, his girlfriend, and the two hostages to survive the killer, which they do for much too long in the film’s dragged out middle section. It’s reported that Mena spent years making “Malevolence”. With all that time, you’d think he could write a better script. During all those years, didn’t he once realized that his film was lacking? That it drags mightily, and that he doesn’t have nearly enough victims to maintain pacing?
The fact that Mena’s script is lethargic and clich’d-ridden is doubly disappointing considering that the film looks much better than its budget, especially the exterior scenes early on. In any case, “Malevolence’s” most frightening sequences all involve slow moving shots of the killer’s house. Too bad the rest of the film never comes close to matching those dolly shots of the killer’s house.
Stevan Mena (director) / Stevan Mena (screenplay)
CAST: Samantha Dark …. Samantha Harrison
Brandon Johnson …. Julian
Heather Magee …. Marylin
Richard Glover …. Kurt
Courtney Bertolone …. Courtney Harrison