Although I’ve read some comparisons to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon. I’m sure I’m going to lose my train of thought trying to explain it, but here goes: the movie is a sort of metafilm about a would-be serial killer who is inspired by popular movie killers (real in the movie’s world), like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. Drawing on their precedent, he devises ways to stalk, torment, and hunt his virginal, teenage prey. In doing so, he “exposes” the tricks of the trade (which we know as stereotypical slasher movie tropes), deconstructing the Freudian meanings behind many of them. For most of the movie, it’s a wonderfully creative behind-the-scenes experience that demystifies and remythologizes the slasher genre. At least, until it becomes what it’s exposing.
Toward the end, there’s an “I feel like I saw that coming” twist, at which point, the movie’s narrative and camera shifts into actual slasher movie mode. When this happens, the movie starts to take place in the same kind of world in which Jason & co.’s adventures take place. It loses that this-could-be-the-real-world credibility by mimicking the slasher genre a little too genuinely. After spending so much time making the tropes and tricks so transparent, the movie just slides them all back on, seemingly forgetting to be clever anymore. The shift from sleeper-hit to B-movie happens without enough irony or disassociation to justify the switch.
A great deal of Behind The Mask‘s appeal comes from star Nathan Baesal’s irresistible enthusiasm. His constantly-bubbling-to-the-surface giddiness is a huge part of what makes it so easy to forget the inevitable slaughter that he plans to wreak. Baesal makes you want to share a beer with Leslie Vernon after his small triumphs. He’s a man who cares more, and believes more, in his job than certainly anyone I know. Up until his blades touch their first jugular, you support and endorse what he’s doing. You cheer for him in his victories, and may even buy into his beliefs. Maybe that’s why the movie takes the turn it does. Eventually, Vernon is going to kill people, and by essentially turning into a different movie, it allows you dissociate from his actions. By becoming a slasher film, instead of a film about a slasher, you get to believe in two Leslie Vernons, one man and one monster. The movie, it would seem, sacrifices its last act, in order to allow you to maintain your infatuation with the man you’ve come to love. It seems like the film equivalent of your parents telling you that your dog went off on a farm to run around and play while you’re helping them bury a lumpy plastic garbage bag in your back yard. I feel like I deserved better.