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Director Stevan Mena delivers a double-whammy

There’s not an original idea to be found among the various components of the 2004 movie, Malevolence. However, the way its familiar elements are woven together somehow results in an original and entertaining story. To name a few of its influences, it’s got the grisly setting of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the bag-covered face of a killer ala Jason (early-Friday the 13th), who doesn’t seem to die (Halloween), and even the set-up and wordy closing revelations of Psycho.

By mixing these elements, writer/producer/director/editor (and even composer – more on that later), Stevan Mena, keeps you guessing about what will happen next. Malevolence begins with the kidnapping of a young boy forced to witness the cruelties of his abductor. Then, ten years later, in a seemingly unrelated event, two men and a woman rob a bank with unpredicted results. (Isn’t that always what happens?)

When separated and on the run, one of the robbers must take a woman and her softball star daughter captive. So, who is the main character here? The kidnapped boy? The bank robber or robbers? The woman and/or her daughter? I like that it’s ambiguous. With all the twists and turns in the story, it doesn’t really matter. In their own ways, every one of the characters is a villain as well as a potential victim. As long as you can’t predict what’s going to happen, you don’t have to invest in any one character. The story is the star.

Everyone and everything intersects at a deserted house in the woods. (Isn’t that always what happens?) For the most part, it’s a smart screenplay. Nobody does anything extremely stupid and their actions have real motivation and consequence. Obviously shot on a low budget, Malevolence nevertheless looks great, even though the acting and special effects are merely adequate.

Is it good enough for a prequel? Stevan Mena thinks so and he follows-up with Bereavement (2010), which is overall a better-produced movie. The story here is less unpredictable, although it still contains a sprawling cast of characters. While the villain is clear from the beginning, it’s not so clear who will be the main victim. Again, I like the ambiguity. It provides the feeling that no one is safe: adult, child or even pet dog.

Even though both movies feature long, establishing images of roads, fields and landmarks, in Bereavement, there are more widescreen, picturesque landscapes of rural Pennsylvania. These lingering shots set the mood, which are interspersed with brutal, graphic violence, more so in the prequel. Bereavement is definitely bloodier than Malevolence, with more gruesome special effects.

The budget must have been bigger, also, because this time, there are a couple of name stars: Michael Biehn and John Savage. (Notice I didn’t say “big-name stars”.) And the acting seems better all around, although that may be only because the characters are better developed. Bereavement is basically the story of the kidnapped boy from Malevolence, taking place five years after his abduction and five years before the events of the original movie. We see what happened to him during that time.

I mentioned the music earlier. Mena must have a John Carpenter complex. Although the score for Malevolence doesn’t feature a persistent theme like Halloween, it does overuse the “stinger”, a loud electronic chord when something is supposed to scare us. Fortunately, he’s toned it down in Bereavement. In both movies, the music during times apart from the tension-filled scenes is actually quite lovely. This man appears to be truly multi-talented.

The more I think about them, I really like these movies. They stand independently, yet fit together better than most prequels/sequels. Even though there are a couple of minor continuity slips, it’s apparent that much attention is otherwise paid to the details. Perhaps that explains the six-year time period between their respective release dates. I’d gladly wait that long for other series chapters if I could be sure the end product would be as satisfactory as this one.

REVIEW: Malevolence & Bereavement
4.0Overall Score
Malevolence
Bereavement
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