James Wan is a household name in the horror realm, having helmed flicks like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, all of which became successful franchises. The man knows his audience, and has no problem challenging them a bit this time with Malignant. I’ll admit it, you can take my opinion with a fine grain of salt, but I think this is a film worth discussing and enjoying for all it’s subversive glory.
Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant and living with her abusive husband. When a dark figure attacks in the middle of the night, she becomes the focus for a series of strange attacks throughout Seattle. As Detective Shaw (George Young) investigates and Madison’s sister Sydney (Madison Hasson) tries to help her unravel her past, Madison begins experiencing visions of the hooded figure Gabriel, a dark growling force voiced by Ray Chase.
To speak much more on the plot would do it a disservice. This isn’t like Wan’s more popular titles but more akin to his lesser known flick Dead Silence. The colors are washed out, much of the screen tinted blue, and I was reminded of cheap horror films of the early 2000’s and the gore fests that are more frequently produced in Europe, particularly from a few decades back. The music isn’t focused on just being scary but revels in the strangeness appearing on screen. In fact, the entire film does this. Characters are direct with little time spent on subtlety. Their dialogue is cheesy by design. The opening logos have the crackle and grainy feel of old video cassettes and box T.V.s. Wan knows exactly what movie he is making and I can’t really fault him for that, nor do I want to. He is mixing subgenres into something strange but unique and it had me grinning from ear to ear.
Does it have some of the same clichés we are used to? Yes. Characters enter darkened spaces whereas most of us would hopefully run or reach for a lightswitch. One character explores an abandoned hospital for records that really shouldn’t be there. But few make such plot points look so good and the payoff comes when Madison starts experiencing vision before a twist that will make jaws hit the floor. Possibly because of how shocking it is, or at least, because of how it’s built up and presented. And no, a movie isn’t made just by the twist. I hold firm that The Conjuring 2 is Wan’s best film yet. However, Malignant makes me even more excited for what he’ll do next, whatever genre it may be.
Many will cross their arms and say they saw it coming, but the effort fooled me and will no doubt fool others. It was here, more than halfway through, that the movie rose to another level. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t make as much sense as I’d like, but by golly it works.
This is a film that embraces its absurdity and asks us to do the same. Many won’t but I think this will end up being a cult classic. The jump scares aren’t the main focus and could be tighter, but the violent imagery and energy keeps things going. Getting a good look at Gabriel made me wonder who will be the first to pull off his likeness for a Halloween costume. Good luck. If you pull it off, it will be the stuff of nightmares.
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