James Wan’s Malignant didn’t screen in time for critics, which never bodes well for a movie. It also premiered on HBO Max today, which isn’t really a good sign for the film financially (if you saw the numbers for The Suicide Squad and Reminiscence, you’d get the point). So, what are we to make of this movie? Well, Wan has made plenty of good movies, both in the horror genre (Saw, The Conjuring) and he’s done a decent job testing the waters with the action genre (Aquaman, Furious 7). Malignant, his first horror film since The Conjuring 2, is an effective horror film, one whose central mystery consistently held me in my grip even when I sensed where it was going. Then it gets there, in a final act so unbelievably, shockingly nutty, it makes what led up to it look like a Pixar movie by comparison.
This was a film that’s been on my radar for a little bit, because Wan is a talented fella, particularly with horror. So seeing the not-so stellar first reviews when waking up this morning was something of a bummer. Seeing the film for myself though, it’s kind of one that I can’t help but admire. It’s an original scary movie- not just in that it’s a non-sequel, but also in that its idea is honestly a pretty good one- released amidst a box-office depending on big sequels to lure people back to the movies. I’m not sure if this was released as a “dump it in the theatres and see if they show” kind of movie, but it made a fan of me.
There is perhaps a good chance many won’t go for Malignant, in that it’s pretty gruesome and… well, once you see just how wild its final act is, it’s a make-it-or-break-it situation. Yet this film, considering how abysmal the genre can be, is so well made, from its camera movements to its storytelling. There are little things along the way I could’ve done without, but the big stuff works decently well. It’s well filmed, well acted, its big menace is genuinely creepy, even before his big reveal. By its end though, the film stuck with me because of its go for broke insanity. They put it all out there, and dammit, I gotta respect them for it.
Annabelle Wallis is strong as Madison, who at the start of the film is pregnant and in a miserable relationship. Madison does find solace in her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), amidst all of this. Adding to that drama is something just a smidge more intense. Upon seeing a spirit, of the sorts, in her house, she also begins seeing visions of this spirit murdering people. She thinks they’re nightmares at first, but they actually turn out to be placing Madison in the killer’s point of view, and she is witnessing the murders as they happen.
So, there is more about this plot that I could dive into, but I’ll do my best to keep it kind of brief. Madison seeks the help of the police, once she realizes that these murders are real. Yet soon she comes to realize that this killer, which has a freaky ability to crawl and practically turn its entire body with ease, has a personal connection to her, and that she actually has suppressed memories of this creature, who goes by the name of “Gabriel.” So Madison and Sydney try to get to the bottom of Madison’s past to figure out just what the hell is going on.
From that description, you’re probably expecting A Nightmare on Elm Street with a touch of Minority Report, and yes. It does happen to be its own fresh being though, with a storyline that kept me intrigued even when I sensed just what story Wan was telling. There are details that are being withheld here, but from the way the film unveils its story, you might too. Yet it didn’t matter, because as a piece of horror, it worked. For me, at least. Its images are disturbing, from its gruesome murders to its big villain, which, when it’s finally revealed in full, is a spectacle worthy of, say, John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly. In other words, this Gabriel fella is utterly repulsive, but he pretty much is the stuff of nightmares, so call it a win for Wan.
All of it is pretty nutty, but some things I probably could’ve done without. Zoe Bell appears, but this character serves one purpose, and it’s not much of one. There are also the usual dumb decisions that are made in these movies, such as, why on earth someone choose to continue living in a house where their husband’s neck was snapped in half? I also like the score by Joseph Bishara, who collaborated with Wan on Insidious, but it doesn’t always fit. All of this insanity though couldn’t possibly prepare you for the film’s final act.
Guys, let me just say: it’s a lot. If what preceded it wasn’t already a lot, trust me, it really wasn’t. Once Wan reaches just where he’s been taking this story all along, what transpires in this 30 minutes or so is so bats**t crazy, so unbelievably gruesome, and so insanely nutty (oh and to another adjective, disturbing), writing about it simply couldn’t do it justice. I cackled, as it took it my breath away, but the cackling wasn’t just because it’s pretty silly, but because it’s so insane, perhaps I wasn’t sure how else to respond to it. It’s the kind of movie where, once you see, you know you want to drag others to it, just to get their reaction.
Truth is, you’ll either find the climax of Malignant ridiculous and silly, which it is, or you’ll find it unforgettably grotesque, which it also is. As for me, it was all pretty effective, and admirably, in some ways, wonderfully, bonkers. Basically, if you enter Malignant wanting to have a good time, you’ll find it, and otherwise, you won’t. Wan is the same man who, with his last film, had an octopus playing the drums under water. Clearly, he knows what I want to see, and he delivers upon it. Even if there are some things I truly wish I could un-see.