Behind the Mask is yet another meta-horror film. However, unlike those that have come before (and after) Behind the Mask is done mockumentary style throughout most of the film. A group of college students decides to follow Leslie Vernon as he prepares for his first night as the next big slasher killer. The movie is a clever idea that executes for me in many ways and lets me down in others.
The introduction of the film lets us know one very important piece of information; we are in a world where slasher movies are real. A few of the big ones are referenced, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc, others are just implied. Either way, they exist in this world, and the reality of them is something that people are logically faced with. Taylor, the girl in charge of the project, and the others are following Leslie as he prepares for his first massacre. To start this is one of the best ideas for a meta-horror flick. It is something I haven’t seen before, nor do I know of anyone attempting to recreate it.
Instead of the acknowledgment of “the rules” of horror coming from the survivors, it’s coming from the killers. Leslie lets us know that the killers respect and honor these rules because it’s an important part of what they are doing. This also creates a great deal of comedy. At one point Leslie is shown doing a lot of cardio, and he then quips that walking all night after teenagers running is hard work. He talks about wearing bulletproof equipment because the teens have to be able to fight back without actually hurting them. The “rules” are in place but from a different perspective.
The film also cleverly shows us what makes a good horror film. Leslie goes through many stages of stalking the girl who is meant to be his “final girl” building the pre-massacre scenes that we all know and love. It’s fun to imagine them from the killer’s angle and see how he makes them happen. It also very smartly tackles the issue that the reality of the legend doesn’t matter, only the legend itself. At one point the people making the documentary find out he is not actually the boy from the legend, and he informs them it doesn’t matter, all that matters is he fills a role.
The role he is meant to fill is presented to the audience as the fear in the world that is needed for good to exist. The movie touches on the idea of whether or not evil is evil early on. When Leslie talks to another killer, he talks about how himself and other killers serve a purpose that cannot be erased. That the importance of fear is one that is essential to life. They discuss their place in the world and ultimately the fact that they do something that is needed.
The girl that is in charge of the documentary is not entirely convinced, but everybody else seems to accept that. She struggles with her place in making this documentary, and whether or not she can be ok with it.
Then the climax of the film happens, and it takes a significant downturn for me. (warning spoilers ahead)
It turns out that the girl in charge of the documentary, Taylor, is our final girl, and not who Leslie had lied and said it was. This in and of itself is not problematic, but rather how the movie presents the final girl. Behind the Mask presents it as a virgin and that is pretty much it, and in all honesty in recent years that might be the case. I won’t claim to be an expert, but I have taken a few film classes, and I find this to be a gross under-representation of an important role. The “final girl”/”survivor girl” is not just a virgin, in fact, in some movies, it’s clear she is not. She is resourceful, she is willing to forego the “sins” that others partake in from time to time, she is a bit different, she is smart, and most of all she is a challenge to the killer.
Taylor is not.
Even with knowledge of how everything is meant to play out (because Leslie told her), she still can’t manage to get the group together and fight back. In all honesty, she seems to only beat Leslie because he wants her to. She continually falls for his traps, gets other people killed, and is completely helpless. She is an embarrassment of a final girl, and it’s frankly annoying.
Not only is Taylor a letdown but the entire climax is. Because Taylor’s inability to step up and fight back the massacre is rather boring and predictable. Until the ending, we had a rather smart horror film that played with comedy and themes, and we are left with a meh climax that feels like it’s out of just any ole 80s/90s slasher flick.
This is more disappointing because the set up to this climax touches on something more. Why not explore the idea that the killers present, that they provide something that is needed? Why not take an unexpected turn and have Leslie influence the documentary crew? There are a lot of other directions the movie could have gone. In fact, even the idea that Taylor is the “survivor girl” is not a bad one if it had been executed better.
In the end, I would still consider this a pretty darn good horror film. It’s funny, it features a great who’s who cast, it fits it’s meta role well, and it’s something that horror fans (especially slasher fans) can enjoy. It just commits one of the biggest horror crimes, in my opinion, it has a climax that is much weaker than the rest of the film. Despite being mostly disappointed with the climax, I still find myself enjoying the movie overall and more than willing to recommend it to fans of the genre. It has the potential to possibly be one of the best but sadly ends up, just good. Good is still good though.