This hopefully regular feature will dig into the Netflix “Watch Now” catalog and some of the horror gems and poop nuggets that reside within. The Watch now feature is a marvel that streams thousands of movies and shows or TV set through your Xbox. The first film we’re going to look at today is Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
The film has an interesting premise: An enterprising serial killer has recruited a documentary crew to follow his every move as he plans his debut. The beats of a typical slasher flick are touched on throughout the movie: Vernon takes us though his back story (as a boy he killed his mother, was captured by an angry mob and thrown over a waterfall, presumed to be dead. NOW HE HAS….wait for it…RETURNED). We see him choose his “Survivor Girl” and the victims he needs for an adequate body count. He has a mentor in a retired serial killer and an “Ahab” in Robert Englund psychiatrist looking to bring him down. He reveals how he plans to set up his victims, how he’ll sabotage their attempts to escape and how he’ll doctor any weapons that could be used against him. Seeing your standard plot elements from the other side is a cool little twist, and the one thing about the film that really works.
The problem is the film suffers from really lazy filmmaking. For reasons entirely unclear, for the first two thirds of the movie the point of view randomly switches from documentary style to third person. This goes on until the third act, when the documentary shtick is dropped altogether and you get standard, Z grade killer disposing the cannon fodder one by one until he meets his match in the Final Girl. The constant switch in perspective does nothing except serve as a massive distraction, and the final scenes of slicing and dicing aren’t anything new, nor are they particularly memorable.
While Nathan Baesel imbues his Leslie Vernon character with a natural charm and comedic touch and has an easy chemistry with co-star and documentary host Angela Goethals, the film offers enough distractions to prevent the viewer from buying into him as a serial killer. First, the movie asks you to accept that Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kreuger are real and are known serial killers. They’re referenced in the narrative parts of the documentary, and by Leslie’s mentor in a Eugene in an unintentionally comic highlight when he gives his “in my day serial killers had to walk uphill to both kill and dispose of their victims now you kids get off my lawn before I get my chainsaw” speech. With all the real life psychotics out there, name checking fictional ones seemed, well, stupid. Even the mask the FX department came up with looked like a poor Michael Myers knockoff with a case of the mumps. Combined with the hillbilly overalls, there’s really nothing scary about Leslie Vernon. And that’s the underlying problem-in trying to straddle the horror-comedy fence, the film ends up falling a bit flat on both sides of it.
The other problem is the documentary crew, especially Angela Goethals as host Taylor Gentry. After spending a month with Vernon, and seeing the meticulous planning he’s undertaken, they seem flabbergasted when the killing starts. They also never take a single moment during the proceedings to ponder the fact they’re aiding and abetting mass murder, or at the very least think about if what they’re doing will get them sent to a Federal “pound them in the ass” prison. Goethals in particular seems to waver between a mousy girl with a crush on Vernon to a sister figure trying to change his mind to move ahead until she finally settles on a laughable attempt at badassery when she calls the crew off the project. Hear tearful goodbye to Vernon seems really odd and out of place. For the documentary plot to work, the writers really should have had a film crew that was gung ho for the project and were sick and twisted in their own right.
If you have a Netflix account and just don’t think you can sit through your 100th viewing of the Shining or Halloween or any other DVD in your collection, the movie is free to watch, and with a 90 minute and change running time, isn’t going to eat up your whole day. The premise is fun, the title character sells the little decent material he’s given and it’s nice to see conventions turned on their head a bit, just don’t expect much more than a halfway time killer.