Malevolence commits what is, to my mind, the worst sin a film can commit - it's boring. Just competent enough that it's not bad, and just pedantic enough that it will never be any good, Malevolence is a stalk 'n' slash movie that exists in that demilitarized zone of the truly uninteresting.
The opening exhibits a certain minimalist style that is actually quite effective. A boy is forced to watch the murder of a woman by a methodical killer. Writer/director Stevan Mena understands the basic brutality of the scene, and doesn't go in for a lot of additional flash. The creepiness speaks for itself.
However, this prologue ruins the next twenty minutes of the movie. Mena pretends he's not making a slasher film at all, but a half-assed redo of Reservoir Dogs. His obvious structural influence is Psycho, but he botches it by showing his horror cards up front. Instead of intrigue, he elicits impatience as we wait for the real action to begin.
The real problem with Malevolence is that it's a 50 minute movie trapped in 85 minutes of runtime. There's far too much padding at either end, and more often than not it's repetition of character information that was obvious within the first ten minutes. Worse, there's a scene that would have made the film infinitely creepier had it been placed near the beginning, where the origins of the killer are recounted. Mena places it at the end, after we've dealt with the plot for the most part, and it becomes redundant.
Continuing the theme of mediocrity, the acting lacks a sense of reality. While the cast is neither stilted nor arch, they never sound like they're speaking to each other. They read lines for the benefit of the audience, crisply and without genuine emotion.
The killer in Malevolence is of the Michael Myers variety: masked, jumpsuited, and apparently invulnerable. His sudden appearances are always met with a strong musical chord, which results in a few shocks. Scary, however, this man is not. He lurches across the screen in a fashion that's far too familiar, engendering not terror, but a sense of nostalgia for better films.
Malevolence is filmed on 35mm, a rarity for low-budget flicks (especially these days). Unfortunately, the choice of film stock is to the detriment of the overall experience. I expect a more professional edge, something more than an ephemeral spook show. This isn't that. On 35mm, the movie seems cold and distant when it should be mucking about in the viewer's nervous system.
Here's a quick list of different horror films that Malevolence pulls from: Psycho, Halloween, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Evil Dead, Reservoir Dogs, and Friday the 13th. These are all better films and worth watching over this piece of meh. Apparently, it's the middle part of a trilogy -- a sequel and a prequel are supposedly in the works -- but we can only hope that we aren't forced to snooze through two more entries.