Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon Review
The perfect film to cap off FrightFest 2006 before the highly-anticipated Gwoemul aka The Host, writer-director Scott Glosserman’s film is actually a long way away from Man Bites Dog, being far more in keeping with Christopher Guest’s recent run of brilliant satires. Smart, funny and scary, this was a hit with pretty much everyone there, and kept people laughing and cheering right up to the end of the end credits.
In a USA where Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger all existed, a college documentary crew are granted full behind-the-scenes access by up-and-comer supernatural serial killer Leslie Vernon as he plans his campaign of terror over small town Glen Echo, as long as they do not interfere with his work. The more they witness, however, the more they have to ask themselves: can they keep their word?
In the manner of The Blair Witch Project, which borrowed the faux-documentary narrative device from Ruggero Deodato’s notorious Cannibal Holocaust but applied it to a classic American horror story, writer-director Glosserman takes infamous Belgian faux-doc C’est Arrive Pres De Chez Vous aka Man Bites Dog and applies its narrative device to the US supernatural spree killer subgenre. However, in a stroke of genius, he adopts Christopher Guest’s satirical tone as perfected in Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, and skewers the subgenre to perfection – if Scream was a perfectly-realised blend of post-modern humour and slasher flick, then Behind The Mask is an even-better realised blend of post-post-etc. modern humour and slasher flick. Even better, Glosserman shoots the faux doc in a proper documentary style on twin DV cameras, and the slasher flick AS a slasher flick, in Super 16mm, keeping the two realities distinct throughout by adhering to the respective cinematic conventions of each sub-genre. He never slips throughout, and while experienced horror watchers may see certain gags coming, in general he avoids the obvious and wrings fresh laughs out of old (in slasher terms) material. The writing, from Glosserman and David Stieve, is fantastic, gag after gag just rolling off the screen with ease, while all the actors give wonderfully real performances, playing it straight the way it needs to be to make the gags, and later the terror, work. There are actually some moments of emotion that ring so true they provoke huge amounts of laughter from an audience that, in geek conversations galore, has almost certainly wondered about the feelings or thoughts of cult killers such as Jason, Michael and Freddy, and can see them mirrored in newcomer Nathan Baesal’s note-perfect performance. He elicits sympathy, admiration, and fear from us as required, and as the documentary crew lose sight of what it is he does, Baesal’s smart enough to never let us forget that last point – when he has actually killed more than once, the stakes are higher for the crew, as it is abundantly clear how easily he could wipe them all out in a flash.
Screen veteran Scott Wilson’s and TV veteran Bridgett Newton’s retired killer and wife mentoring Baesal are a hoot, with a wonderful commentary on both movie killers and real-life spree killers provided in his history lessons and reminiscences of the ‘good old days’, while she also gets one of the absolute funniest throwaway lines of dialogue – keep an ear open for it during the discussion of the Survivor Girl and the ability to run fast. The DV camera guys (Britain Spellings from E.R., and Ben Page) are wonderfully judged, seemingly at first a series of running gags, they come into their own in the fast-moving and tense finale, when you realise how much the actors have done with so little to register with the audience so well. Survivor Girl Kate Lang Johnson graduates from TV to the big screen with a lithe, sexy performance that hits all the right notes the stereotype requires, but then opens it up to something more human at the end. Best of all are the cameos: Kane Hodder of Friday the 13th parts 7 through 10, Zelda Rubenstein of Poltergeist 1 to 3, and Robert Englund in his second showing of the weekend, playing to absolute perfection the Donald Pleasance role that is the icing on the cake of such a movie. The film, however, would not work without Angela Goethals (Spanglish, Changing Lanes, Jerry Maguire) in the lead role, as she has to be both the audience’s key figure of identification in the documentary segments, but then assume an increasing role in the film segments as the story progresses. Her fascination and increasing attraction to Leslie are utterly key to Baesal being able to charm the audience, and the two performances both anchor and balance the film superbly.
All in all, this cannot be recommended highly enough to fans of slasher flicks and fans of Guest-style satires, and equally ought to be seen on the big screen, preferably with a knowing audience. Given the director was unable to attend the screening as planned, I look forward to a detailed commentary or two on the eventual DVD from both him and his cast. Whatever Scott Glosserman does next, given his skilful handling of actors and narrative tone in this debut feature, it should be well worth seeing.
Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon has not yet been picked up for distribution so there is no general release date set at this time.