After a five-year absence, Director James Wan makes his return to the horror genre with his newest release, Malignant. The Australian filmmaker has become one of the most influential figures in the genre over the past two decades, as the man behind classics Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring – all relatively low-budget features that became their own cinematic universes. And Warner Bros. will likely look to replicate that winning formula here.
Wan has expressed his excitement in making something unique, without a pre-existing IP, and creating an original story, which is something he certainly delivers in abundance here. However, those expecting Malignant to hit the heights of its predecessors might have to leave their lofty expectations at the door.
Malignant stars Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders, The Mummy) as Madison Mitchell, a woman who is tortured by visions of grizzly murders, visions that become even more terrifying when she discovers that the violence she is seeing is indeed real. She is supported by co-stars Maddie Hasson (who plays her sister, Sydney), George Young, and Michole Briana-White, who play the lead detectives.
Wallis delivers an underwhelming performance and just doesn’t have the acting chops required to lead this film. A more nuanced approach could have made a huge difference. The supporting cast does little to elevate the story either and are all hampered further by weak characterization, which leaves the film void of any emotional connection.
Wan has never shied away from a desire to make his own, modern version of a Giallo movie, and Malignant is indeed his version of the classic Italian genre. The works of Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, and Brian De Palma serve as inspiration for his vision, but Wan constructs something of his own. Malignant blends horror and slasher troupes with a murder mystery that keeps you invested throughout, and although clues point towards some semblance of an answer, the final reveal will leave you both stunned and disturbed.
Wans’ directorial fingerprints are all over the film, with strong visuals, slick camera work, and a killer soundtrack all feeding the different themes throughout. We are introduced to classic horror elements at the beginning, but these are sharply replaced by a shift in focus to some very violent slasher scenes. The bloodshed is high, and the kill scenes are executed well, which will appease many die-hard fans of these particular genres. 80’s horror troupes were something Wan spoke about as another inspiration for the film and these are seen clearly as it descends into something more audacious.
The production design is impressive, with some very effective CGI work setting the scene for the macabre to come. The film is filled with dark tones and stormy weather elements that really add to the unsettling nature of the story. Surprisingly, humor is something that is tried periodically throughout, but it fails heavily in this area; the timing is off, and serves as a weird distraction from the chilling events that unfold. The decision to focus certain scenes on one of the detective’s love-life becomes baffling and irritating, leaving you perplexed as to why they were added.
Malignant delivers something very unexpected, which will likely be divisive amongst fans. Although touches of Wan’s previous work can be felt, Malignant holds true to the director’s intent of creating something original. The central mystery plays out to a bloody and gruesome conclusion, with an ending that borders between ingenious, and ludicrous! Praise has to be given for the ambition shown, as the project takes some very big swings, but Malignant’s descent into lunacy alongside its lack of tonal focus, poor character development, and indecisive themes, leads to its downfall. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, Malignant will leave a lasting imprint long after the credits roll.
My rating: ⭐⭐1/2
Malignant is now showing in cinemas and is available to stream on HBO Max. Check out the trailer below.
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