Every generation has its horror icon. The 1970’s had Michael Myers. The 1980’s had Freddy Krueger. Even the 1990’s had Ghostface. But 7 years into the 21st century, it still doesn’t seem like the millennials have had a genuine enigma of terror to call their own. Well, the wait is over. The boogeyman is back in new form, and his name is Leslie Vernon.
“Behind The Mask” is set in a world where slasher villains are real, and follows the young news reporter Taylor, who has obtained the exclusive rights to interview and observe Leslie Vernon – a professional serial killer looking to become the next big movie monster, just like his predecessors were in their glory days. Along the way, Taylor and her crew dig into the twisted mind of Leslie, but eventually discover the deadly danger of documenting murder in the making.
In many ways, this movie is the documentary version of Wes Craven’s “Scream”. The characters are completely aware of the tropes and clichés of the genre, and the dialogue itself is like a knife cutting through the formula in an attempt to decipher the code that makes the whole system work. But what sets this film apart from the that and all other of its kind, is the way it doesn’t try to solve the mystery of why the killer does what he does. It even claims that “there must be evil to counter the good”, and that is really all they need to say. We don’t need to be force-fed a reason to the madness. It acknowledges the ridiculous nature of its universe, but still treats it as a psychological study with all the rules that apply, and that is why it flows as well as it does.
Performance-wise, there is gold to be found here. Angela Goethals does a brilliant job of portraying the naive and truth-seeking personality of a young news reporter. She is smarter than most female protagonists, and doesn’t fall for the traps laid out by slasher conventions, which gives her an edge that leading ladies like Sydney Prescott and Laurie Myers don’t have. The real show-stealer, however, is Nathan Baesel, who plays the psychotic but oddly compelling Leslie. For a feature-film debut, this sure is a breakout for the gifted actor, who somehow manages to convince the audience that what he is doing is necessary to maintain balance and order in the world. It sounds crazy, but because he seems so oblivious to his own senses, he pulls us right down into his own insanity by putting on a calm and jokey facade. Over the course of the movie, this facade slowly cracks, leaving us so much more afraid of him, when he finally puts on the mask and goes on a rampage.