Did you know the tagline of the ‘Malignant’ poster reads “A New Vision of Terror”? Well, let’s just say this latest film from James Wan presents us something out of the ordinary and even saves most of the film’s shortcomings (more on that later) from an outright disaster. It’s just that getting to the out-of-ordinary moments requires some patience. And those moments in question happens to be during the go-for-broke third act, which I wouldn’t want to spoil for you here. All I can say is, it is bats*** crazy, bloody-as-hell violent and gory that Wan clearly has a field day embracing the outlandish storyline, which he cooked up with his wife Ingrid Bisu (2018’s ‘The Nun’ and this year’s ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’) and Akela Cooper (TV’s ‘Grimm’, ‘American Horror Story’).
For that outlandish part, I will leave it to you to find out for yourself. As for the plot, here’s what you should know about the film: ‘Malignant’ follows a heavily pregnant Madison (Annabelle Wallis), who has to put up with her volatile and abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel). She has already suffered from several miscarriages in the past and if that’s not traumatic enough, her husband gets too violent at one time that she ends up hitting the back of her head against the wall.
Long story short, her husband is murdered and she wakes up in a hospital. Soon, she starts to experience a series of horrific visions involving a demonic figure who calls himself Gabriel. He would end up murdering his selected victims in the utmost gruesome manner and Madison somehow has a mysterious psychic connection with Gabriel. Complicating matters are the two police detectives, Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), who might think Madison is the serial killer behind all the madness. And who and what exactly does Gabriel actually want from Madison to the point he’s enjoying tormenting her?
James Wan, who decided not to direct ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ in favor of ‘Malignant’ takes his time setting up his storyline. It is slow-moving at first and I have to admit the film’s nearly two-hour runtime could have used some tighter pace. Wan even tries to spice things up by mashing up different horror-film tropes ranging from Dario Argento’s giallo-like visual approach (among them happens to be the Italian genre meister’s ‘Suspiria’) to a few cinematic inspirations of David Cronenberg’s body horrors and Brian De Palma’s early horror works.
Fans of ‘The Conjuring’ franchise still gets to see Wan’s usual bag of tricks when comes to handling the supernatural elements, particularly the film’s home invasion-like setting. The film also comes complete with nifty camera works (at one point, there’s a brief but fascinating tracking shot from the house’s ceiling point-of-view) and Joseph Bishara’s typically riveting score.
As much as I appreciate Wan being ambitious of paying homage to some of the well-known genre specialists, the overall mishmash is somewhat a hit-and-miss affair. His misses might have something to do with Wan taking the whole scenario a little too seriously. It would have worked better if he embraced his storyline wholeheartedly in a gleeful, self-aware manner. Maybe something like how the late Wes Craven flipped the otherwise done-to-death slasher film inside out in an ironic fashion in the ‘Scream’ franchise.
The film also misses the mark when comes to the character development and all the emotional beats necessary to feel invested with them. It’s kind of a pity because Annabelle Wallis, who previously appeared in 2014’s ‘Annabelle’ and 2017’s ‘Annabelle: Creation,’ actually does a decent job portraying the increasingly paranoid Madison. But she is pretty much being written as a surface-level character and the same also goes with the rest of her co-stars including Maddie Hasson, who plays her blonde-haired sister Sydney Lake as well as George Young and Michole Briana White. Ingrid Bisu, who shows up in a supporting role as a geeky forensic officer, seems to be more in line with the film’s bonkers-style storytelling.
Back to the third act, this is where Wan truly shines the most and is among the only reasons that kept me hooked until the end. Elsewhere, he doesn’t shy away when comes to executing graphic violence and gore on full display. The introduction of the black cloak-wearing Gabriel is one of Wan’s most memorable horror antagonists ever created since the Jigsaw Killer in ‘Saw’ back in 2004, the film that turned the then-unknown Australian director into a household name.
Read More: Is The Conjuring Based on a True Story?