★ / ★★★★
Martin was little boy with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA). While his mother was explaining to a potential babysitter about the boy’s condition, Martin was, in the blink of an eye, kidnapped by a passing serial killer, Ted (John Savage), whose goal was to train the innocent kid on how to gut women like animals. Five years later, Allison (Alexandra Daddario) moved in with her Uncle Jonathan (Michael Biehn) after her parents died in a car crash. While on her routine run, she noticed a boy watching her from an abandoned meat-packing factory. Written and directed by Stevan Mena, “Bereavement,” a prequel to “Malevolence,” had a relatively interesting premise but it failed to take off because it neglected to draw characters we could root for nor was it particularly entertaining due to a lack of creative horror chase scenes. Let’s start with its title. Allison had a reason to grieve. Her obsession with running was obviously a way of coping; the physical act of running took her out of her muddled thoughts and it helped her put things into perspective. Her uncle and his family cared for her but she found it difficult to care for them on the same level. She probably thought loving a new family was an act of betrayal to her biological family. Furthermore, it was also a symbol of her running away from grieving over her parents’ death. She rarely communicated with anybody so she came off as moody, almost unlikable. When she did make a connection with the boy next door, William (Nolan Gerard Funk), the writer-director made a decision to interrupt their blossoming connection and inserted a scene of Ted kidnapping or murdering another woman. By doing so, we failed to learn more about Allison. It was critical that we got to know her because she was, inevitably, going to be the final girl standing. We needed reasons, aside from the fact that she was prey, to want to see her survive. It was a shame because when Allison and William finally went on a proper date, that was when I realized that the two actors had chemistry. It was the first time the movie changed tones and the emotions came alive. A horror film should not be afraid to let its characters laugh and have fun. Moreover, the picture’s lack of heart-pounding chase sequences was gravely disappointing. The story took place in a rural area where farmlands could be seen for miles. There were some creepy instances when Allison was stalked by Ted while in his truck. It was repetitive but at least it attempted to generate some minute level of tension. But Allison was captured rather quickly and she was stuck in one place. She was given nothing to do but scream and it got annoying. The first half of the movie tried to convince us that she was a strong woman, but the second half failed to prove that to us. Instead of allowing her to sleep off her increasingly grim situation, I wanted to see her actually play the hand she’d been given. Yes, she was stuck in a big freezer but if the fire inside her was strong and desperate, then we would have had a reason to keep watching. “Bereavement” lacked focus and therefore power. If it had found a way to highlight the similarities between Martin and Allison, like their parents prematurely being taken from them, it wouldn’t have felt so brazen in recycling old formulas.
★★★ / ★★★★
Four people (R. Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Keith Chambers) decided to rob a bank and were relatively successful except that one of them had been shot. They divided into two groups. A mother (Samantha Dark) and daughter (Courtney Bertolone), on their way home from a softball game, were taken hostage by one of the robbers because he was caught stealing their van. The man took his hostages to a remote house and waited for his three accomplices. Meanwhile, there was a serial killer next door patiently waiting for his next victim. Written and directed by Stevan Mena, “Malevolence” was quite effective in delivering violence and scares. There was nothing particularly original about it but it didn’t need to because I was consistently fascinated with what was happening on screen. It was obviously influenced by John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” When characters were on the foreground, the masked killer would sneakily appear on the background and just… observe. The creepiness was elevated by the film’s score. I liked the way the picture took place at night and, since the abandoned houses were in the middle of nowhere, electricity was rarely used. Darkness hid certain corners, perfectly designed for something to jump out from them and I always expected that something would. There were times when I was actually caught off guard. When fluorescent lights were used, they flickered. Surprisingly, I found it scarier when lights were on because every flicker could potentially reveal something that wasn’t there just a second before. As much as it was violent, I loved that the environment was very detailed: House A had no decoration other than thick dust that invaded the air when there was sudden movement, while House B had all sorts of strange things like blood in a tub, a month’s worth of unwashed dishes, and possible signs of satanic ritual. The scenes outdoors were quite impressive, too. When the daughter attempted to escape from one of the bank robbers, she had to run and scream across a field. There was something quite unsettling with the way it was shot. However, I wish we knew more about the killer prior and during his killing sprees. What made this film’s inspirations so effective was the fact that we knew something disturbing about Michael Myers and Leatherface, something scary beyond the stabbings and chopped up bodies. Furthermore, the acting could have been stronger. Some scenes needed to be reshot, especially toward the beginning, because the lines uttered did not complement the actors’ facial expressions. It was somewhat amusing to watch. However, once it got to the meat of the conflict, when acting became less important, the material held my attention like a vise-grip. Most importantly, the writer-director did not allow his project’s low budget to get in the way of his vision. Instead of succumbing to limitation, he saw inspiration.