2006’s offering of Behind the Mask, The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a complete and utter delight. Going in I knew it was a mockumentary of sorts, but it’s a genuinely gorgeous story revolving around the predictability of horror movies, the monopoly of horror tropes and also the beautiful story between a wanna be serial killer and his final girl.
This film has it all. Like, all of it. In this alternative universe, horror serial killers are real. Freddy, Jason, Michael, you name it. We learn this within the opening minutes of the film and as such are introduced to our primary protagonists, a group of college co-eds who want to make a documentary about the processes (and motivations) behind this breed of killer. Enter Leslie. Leslie has been preparing his entire life to be part of this cult of legends and he’s agreed to take part in the project to show how it’s all pulled off.
The best part of this entire film is Leslie. Played by Nathan Baesel in his first leading film role, he’s an absolute blast. Adorable, awkward, enthusiastic and passionate about his chosen career choice, Leslie is a logistical genius. The levels he goes to and the depths of which he plans are absolutely magnificent. This is a film of many, many layers – just like Leslie. On the surface he’s personable, charismatic and genuine. Peel it back a little and there’s deep rooted compulsion where his plans are concerned, and beneath all of that is a violent, sadistic streak. He considers his first killing spree as his destiny and has worked his entire life up to that moment. His interactions with the film crew are brilliant, there’s a real sense of comradery throughout the film as they’re draw into Leslie’s web. They’re blinded by his creativity and charm so that when the pivotal moment finally comes and he actually hurts someone, it hits them like a sledgehammer.
Taylor is a divine character. Played with subtlety and intelligence by Angela Goethals, Taylor is at the heart of the film. Acting as the interviewer, she gets pulled into Leslie’s story and even into some of his schemes. Although initially concerned and a little unsure, she takes to Leslie, letting her walls down a little leading to some really tender moments. Their relationship is my favourite part of the entire film and really made me root for both of them. That’s how clever this film is.
Because it makes you forget Leslie is the antagonist.
Behind the Mask is, at its core, a deconstruction of the horror genre, particularly of 80s slasher films. Leslie takes us behind the curtain of the killer (eluding to himself on more than one occasion as a magician and what he does, ‘magic’). He perceives what he does as vital – he’s the evil to balance out the good in the world. But he works as if he were presenting a show and he’s directing – not just his group of chosen victims but also the film crew. We meet retired killer Eugene and his wife (and final girl!) Jamie, giving us even more insight into what drives the killers on. Again, it comes back to art. Eugene in particular gets angry at the thought of someone just haphazardly butchering someone. It has to be done with method, with planning and meaning.
From Leslie and Eugene we learn that for a killer to be successful, they must have great cardio (to walk very fast but seem slow) and be able to control their bodily functions (particularly their heart rate, so they can play dead) really well. But from discussing red herrings to having an ‘ahab’ (ultimate force of good) in Doc Halloran (Robert Englund), the various rules of killing (no one gets away and hiding in the closet is ‘sacred’) and even the phallic nature of weaponry, we get it all. This is a love letter to what makes slasher films. I loved it.
In many ways a film of two halves, when Leslie is describing scenarios (or when they’re actually playing out) we move from handheld, documentary style film making, to a professional movie. When the crew are filming, there’s no music, but when we enter film mode, we get a musical score. This is also the case when it comes to gore – we get nothing when the documentary is being done (as the crew don’t film any killing, they hear it however) but when we enter the film world, we get hints of gore and brutality.
The script is solid with some fantastic dialogue that flows well and always feels natural. You believe in the characters and their quirks, such as Todd being a terrible camera man and perving on every girl he sees. Leslie comes across as chauvinistic when it comes to his final girl but also sincere in his desire for her to move from innocent and afraid to battle-hardened and revenge driven. The story is original, paced well and expertly told by first time director Scott Glosserman – its easy to see how passionate he was about the project and it’s incredible he’s not done much else
The third act is a fantastic cat and mouse game with a brilliant reveal hinted at throughout the entire film. If you’re planning on watching make sure to stick around until the end of the credits for a fun pay off.
Thanks for reading and next up – Jennifer’s Body.