MALEVOLENCE (2007)
Starring Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
BEREAVEMENT (2010)
Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage, Nolan Gerard Funk, Spencer List, Brett Rickaby, Peyton List
Written and Directed by Stevan Mena
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There are those who poo poo the slasher film as one of the lowest common denomenators in horror. I’m not one of those people. I grew up watching FRIDAY THE 13TH’s and HALLOWEEN and loving every single frame. The problem with those films is that the early ones were made by masters of suspense, amping up the fright of being stalked by a lone, unstoppable madman who continues to advance on you no matter how much you fight back, but the latter ones were made by folks who weren’t as skilled or smart at making a film that gives chills and focused more on showing the killer in plain sight and focusing more on gimmicks than scares. And it appears that writer/director Stevan Mena feels the same way. Mena, in two films, has revitalized the slasher film by doing two things; moving forward and moving back.

With MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, one can literally note the forward and back momentum in that the narrative leaps from present day in the first film (MALEVOLENCE) to the past in the second (BEREAVEMENT), but this attention to pushing forward and moving back can also be applied to the films when talking about them stylistically. MALEVOLENCE, in many ways, is an old school slasher yarn. Mena channels early Carpenter in many ways; placing his masked stalker in the background while the unknowing victims talk in the foreground a la Michael Meyers. Focusing on the weapon being used rather than the killer itself is another motif that occurs frequently in the film. The POV shots follow the victim rather than the killer in order to influence the viewer to identify with them rather than the usual focus on the anti-hero common in late eighties/early nineties slashers. Even the music is a throwback to Carpenter’s synth score. Mena’s music (an unholy union of Manfredini’s iconic FRIDAY THE 13th orchestra and Carpenter’s synthesizer) shatters out of nowhere signifying and often intensifying what we are seeing on screen.

In the same sense, in the narrative of BEREAVEMENT, Mena pushes our understanding of the slasher forward by giving a reason why these guys can’t be killed. Early in the film, the mother of the child who grows up to be the killer in MALEVOLENCE explains to a babysitter that her child is special. His brain doesn’t register pain, so he literally keeps on going even though he may be mortally wounded. In that tiny bit of exposition, ingeniously worked into the script in a functional manner, Mena explains why his killer (if not all of these cinema slashers) seemingly cannot be killed or hurt. This sophisticated way of storytelling elevates this slasher film above the rest by explaining something common in all of them.

The story is pretty simple. In MALEVOLENCE, the story begins with a young boy being guided to witness a ritual style killing. The story bops forward to the present, where a quartet of crooks plan a robbery. When the robbery goes bad, the quartet takes a mother and child hostage and retreats to what looks like an abandoned slaughterhouse, but the house is not empty. It houses a man who relentlessly stalks and kills them one by one. It’s nothing new, but done so in a manner that shows that Mena has done his homework. The scenes are gritty and tense. The chills are real. The scares aren’t false. And the killer is a relentless one. In the end, Mena turns in a straight up, unapologetic slasher, intelligently crafted and a worthy successor of both FRIDAY and HALLOWEEN films.

But with BEREAVEMENT, Mena takes it to a whole new level. We go back in time witnessing the killer as a young boy, who turns out to be the right boy for Sutter, the slaughterhouse owner and serial killer himself, to kidnap. Although he doesn’t know it, Martin cannot feel pain, a trait very useful in the killing trade. Sutter trains Martin to be the perfect killer in some extremely graphic and disturbing scenes. Again, Mena focuses on the victims. Here he works with a much talented cast, making it much easier to identify with them. Alexandra Daddario is amazing as a city girl forced to live with her overprotective uncle, (played by Michael Biehn, who gives a strong performance here). The stuff Mena puts Daddario through in this one shows that this actress is one to watch out for. In the end, BEREAVEMENT is stronger knowing what Martin will become. It’s sort of what STAR WARS EPISODE I should have been.

I saw MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT out of sequence, but I don’t think that much matters, given that both are powerful films by themselves. I can’t wait to see what Mena has next. Given his talented camera and the intelligent twists and turns he takes, Mena has both honored and redefined the slasher subgenre with these two gripping films.