Directed by Stevan Mena
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Whenever modern filmmakers take a stab at the slasher genre, the word “throwback” is often touted as a way for them to say they’ve bridged the fun of our favorite 80s classics with something of a more modern sensibility. To say the vast majority of them miss the point spectacularly isn’t wrong, but every now and again someone gets it right. Such was certainly the case with Stevan Mena’s Malevolence. A meticulously paced (some might say “boring”) slasher story, it featured a creepy killer, jarring musical stings and some pervasive atmosphere. It felt like a bona fide relic of early 1980s filmmaking, which is exactly why it resonated with slasher fans.
For years Mena claimed the story of resident killer Marin Bristol was merely the middle part in a trilogy, but the further we got away from 2004, the less likely it seemed that we would ever return to the ill-fated slaughterhouse that caught so much of the carnage the first time around. But finally we have Bereavement, a prequel set some fifteen years before the events in the first one. This is the story of the deranged madman who kidnapped Martin Bristol and subjected him to years of psychological trauma and brutal murder – resulting in his own career as an eventual mass murderer.
Right off the bat, Bereavement is going to alienate viewers of a more modern mindset. Mena’s approach to his prequel is better suited to the era of the 1970s, when horror had a slow burn and characters mattered. There are long stretches throughout the film’s 107 minutes where not very much happens outside of little character moments that don’t necessarily advance the story. Mena isn’t interested in recreating the events of Malevolence with a different killer, meaning Bereavement isn’t a slasher film. Sure, there’s murder, but it’s almost never of the stalk ‘n slash variety. Instead, our villain captures young women off rural country roads and brings them back to his abandoned slaughterhouse for a healthy dose of torture before brutally ending their lives. Young Martin witnesses every gruesome detail, and soon his mind begins to decay as well.
That’s a large part of what’s happening throughout the film, but there’s equal focus placed on Allison (Alexandra Daddario), a high school cross-country runner who relocates to rural America to live with her uncle (Michael Biehn) and family after her parents are killed. There’s a bit of an unlikely romantic subplot between Allison and a local boy (Nolan Gerard Funk), lots of family strife and some appropriate parallels drawn between our protagonists and antagonists. Mena’s story weaves a recurring theme about the damage done by overbearing family bonds throughout the narrative, giving his film some welcome substance. The people in Bereavement carry some baggage, making them a lot more human and far more identifiable than standard horror fodder.
And while there’s plenty to appreciate about the measured pace, it’s not entirely successful. There’s perhaps one too many torture sequences early on, making the story feel a bit redundant while we wait for our main characters to cross paths with the psycho. Fortunately, Mena manages some solid set pieces throughout these moments. When the soon-to-be victims try to escape, Bereavement showcases Mena’s deft touch for suspense filmmaking. He doesn’t shy away from the violence either, offering some especially nasty/unsettling fates for his victims.
Some have balked at the writer/director’s decision to take the focus away from Malevolence’s Martin Bristol; however, Mena was wise to keep the kid in what is probably best summarized as a strong supporting role. Bristol didn’t have any personality in Malevolence, and he’s little more than a traumatized child here. His descent into madness and decision to murder stem more from his ghastly surroundings, further intensified by the literary themes of Mena’s story. The sins of the father are always laid upon the son, and every character in Bereavement struggles with this baggage in some way. For Martin, his eventual slasher status isn’t surprising in this context.
Bereavement is strong horror filmmaking, no doubt. Some aren’t going to like the slow going approach while others will find the gradual build and strong performances more than adequate. It’s an interesting companion to Malevolence and with plenty of merit on its own. The occasional repetition of the first two acts are a slight detriment, as are a few minor story beats (no one in this small town noticed the amazingly suspicious vehicle the killer drives at any of the crime scenes?), but that’s not to carp too much. It was a long time coming, but Bereavement is worth the wait.
Bereavement hits DVD with a strong 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that features crisp detail and strong colors – especially for standard definition. I was not given the Blu-ray although I will amend this section if I can get a look at the 1080p transfer.
The audio holds strong with a 5.1 track. This doesn’t have the musical stings that propelled me from my seat a time or two in Malevolence, but it’s an effective surround track regardless. Good channel separation means that dialogue is always clear while surround channels work well with ambient sounds and music. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with the lossy audio here.
The healthy collection of extras include a standard ‘making-of’ documentary (35 minutes), complete with the usual enthusiasm for a project one usually finds in these things. It’s a nice little look at shooting the prequel, both informative and amusing (Michael Biehn, in particular) – one of the best DVD documentaries I’ve seen lately. It assumes you’ve seen the film so don’t be that one weirdo who watches the documentary first as there are heavy spoilers throughout. There’s also a “First Look” featurette which could’ve just been rolled into the documentary. The handful of deleted scenes are interesting little character bits, well worth a look for fans of the film, though I understand these might’ve been present in one of Mena’s earlier cuts and it’s probably to the film’s advantage that they’re no longer present, pace wise. A relatively interesting (if dry) commentary track with Mena is worth a listen, and a theatrical trailer, TV spot, stills gallery and screenplay (via DVD ROM) round out this set.
Bereavement is quality, as is the collection of supplemental materials Anchor Bay has packed onto the DVD. Hopefully it won’t take Mena another six or seven years to get the final installment in Martin Bristol’s saga off the ground as this is a superior ongoing horror saga – one that’s well worthy of continuation.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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