10th Sep2021

‘Malignant’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel, Ingrid Bisu | Written by Ingrid Bisu, James Wan, Akela Cooper | Directed by James Wan

The latest horror flick from director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious), Malignant is a bizarre mixture of the brilliant and the terrible. It’s hard to think of a comparable film that hits both the highs and the lows that Malignant does. As a result, it’s entirely possible that you’ll love it and hate it in equal measure.

The film begins with a terribly acted prologue in which an unseen entity kills lots of people in a hospital and a po-faced doctor declares, “It’s time to cut out the cancer!” We then cut to the present day, where heavily pregnant Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is beaten by her abusive husband (Jake Abel), so badly that the back of her head bleeds profusely.

Later that night, Madison’s husband is violently killed by what appears to be a supernatural creature. The two investigating detectives, Moss and Shaw (Michole Briana White and George Young), immediately suspect Madison, not least because the description she gives the police sketch artist results in a picture that’s derided by Moss as looking like “Sloth from The Goonies.”

Things quickly get worse when Madison begins seeing visions of several other horrific murders, all of which turn out to be real. Then she starts receiving messages from the killer, who calls himself Gabriel, coincidentally the name of her imaginary friend as a child. Desperate to help, Madison’s sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) takes it upon herself to investigate and uncovers a secret that’s as terrifying as it is hilarious.

Malignant is a tricky film to review, as its surprises are most definitely worth preserving, but at the same time, almost everything before the big reveal is no fun at all. Up until the third act, the film has all sorts of problems, from bad acting to paper-thin characters to annoyingly flat dialogue to strangely amateurish cinematography and lighting choices.

However, Malignant jumps into high gear once the secret is revealed, delivering exhilarating action scenes (a blood-soaked battle in an over-populated holding cell is a definite highlight) and properly going for broke in terms of both gory excess and outrageous twists and turns. It even manages a degree of originality in the way the violent set-pieces are staged and performed, though to say any more would be to reveal too much.

Wan has always been a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan and he indulges that passion in glorious fashion here, adding in multiple elements that essentially make this either an actual modern day giallo movie or a bizarre riff on the genre, depending on the strictness of your definition. Either way, it’s a surprisingly successful blend of different horror genres (slasher, body horror, possession, ghost story) and even feels like a superhero movie in places (though one of those dark ones, like Spawn, not something that might show up in the MCU).

Wan also has fun throwing in homages to his favourite directors, throwing in blatant – but crowd-pleasing and nicely executed – steals from the likes of De Palma, Cronenberg, Argento and Fulci. It’s just a shame he didn’t pay the same amount of love and attention to things like dialogue, character and performance.

In short, Malignant‘s terrific second half more than makes up for its tedious and occasionally downright awful first half. Think of it as a wild ride that takes about an hour to get going. And cross your fingers for Malignant 2: Even More Malignant, since the film clearly has its eye on a franchise.

*** 3/5

Malignant is in cinemas now.

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