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[30 Days of Halloween] ‘Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon’ Review

Back when Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was on Netflix, it showed up in my suggestion queue so much that I thought it was a paid advertisement. Turns out that the Netflix gods were right. This movie was totally my jam—and if you like great horror with a dash of comedy, it might be yours, too.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

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The Plot

Behind the Mask takes place in a world where slasher movie killers like Freddie Kruger and Jason Voorhees are real.

Documentary filmmaker Taylor Gentry and her crew aim to learn more about the phenomenon by following Leslie Vernon, a man in the midst of preparing for his own homicidal rampage. Surprisingly, Leslie proves to be as jovial as he is interesting…at first. Once the killing actually starts, everything changes—including the film.

What Works

So, so much. First and foremost is the cast. Any horror movie that features Zelda Rubenstein, Robert Englund, and Scott Wilson in prominent roles is already doing something right. But such an out there premise like this doesn’t work without great leads.

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Nathan Baesel is perfect as the clearly-crazy-but-still-somehow-lovable Leslie Vernon. The guy attacks his murderous profession with the type of enthusiasm and exuberance you’d expect from a young Silicon Valley visionary. Becoming a serial killer isn’t just an uncontrollable urge—it’s truly his dream job.

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He’s also incredibly affable and polite, which makes the moments when his darker tendencies emerge even more unsettling.

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On the other side is Angela Goethals as Taylor Gentry, who somehow makes us believe that a documentary film team could actually do something like this without screaming and running for the hills. Her dedication to documenting a mass murderer’s beginnings is almost as manic as Leslie’s devotion to becoming one. She seems to be the only who remembers what Leslie is while the rest of the crew becomes closer to him and detached from the bloody subject matter.

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Director Scott Glosserman does an exceptional job twisting the film we’re watching into two separate (and distinctly enjoyable) experiences. For most of it, we get a found footage-esque aesthetic where the camera crew actually have a good excuse for filming everything.

But occasionally—and for most of the last act—Behind the Mask puts us on the other side of the camera for a slick, well-produced slasher film. This part could have easily devolved into parody, but Glosserman manages to keep an element of realism present as we watch the standard (but still brilliant) portions of the story unfold.

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As with most horror films made this century, Behind the Mask makes plenty of references and nods to genres expected tropes. In this film, however, it isn’t just an attempt at being meta or dulling the audience’s reaction to bad storytelling. It’s starkly practical. Ever wonder why slashers always walk while their victims run? Leslie explains it—and it’s awesome.

What Doesn’t Work

Ten years later, we still don’t have the sequel, which has been written and has all the stars on board. Meanwhile, the Paranormal Activity franchise was able to take a swan dive off its initial brilliance into a yearly crapping of terrible installments.

Is it Good?

Most definitely. Even if you don’t like it when horror tries to be funny, there’s enough real scares and defying of genre conventions that any slasher film fan will be satisfied.

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