MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Annabelle Wallis, McKenna Grace, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel, Susanna Thompson, Ingrid Bisu, Christian Clemenson, Zoe Bell, Marina Mazepa/Runtime: 111 minutes
I think I can safely say movie lover that when the movie Saw from iconic horror maestro James Wan first made its way to audiences all the way back in the long ago year that is 2004, it ignited an entirely new chapter in the long and storied history of the horror genre in cinema. A chapter that saw such concepts as brutal, ruthless, bleak, and buckets of blood and guts make the full-on transition from being things you saw only mere hints of even in such mainstream horror films as the Halloween and Friday the 13th series’ to things that your horror movie just like totally had to have if it wanted even a chance at heck at making some money off the dumb teenage crowd who simply didn’t know or want to know any better. Yet for as popular as this way of doing things became for horror cinema, it wasn’t long before we as movie goers saw that it wasn’t going to be a common enough component in Wan’s filmography and thus define him as a film maker. I say this because if one makes the choice to really look back at the last decade or so, you would see that by and large the vast majority of Wan’s directorial efforts have been very much the antithesis of what he pulled off in that very first Saw movie. Indeed here is a guy who, when he does decide to go back into the horror pond for a quick swim, gives us entries like the first 2 Conjuring and Insidious films that are scary without having to rely on the utilization of copious amounts of blood in order to effectively chill your spine and who also has done some fairly phenomenal work on the big scale Hollywood movie stage courtesy of such entries as 2015’s fantastic and quite emotional 7th entry in the Fast and Furious series and 2018’s fun and colorful Aquaman cinematic adaptation. Suffice it to say then that whilst Wan’s drive to ensure he is not one who is coerced into helming the same type of movie on an annoying, revolving-door type basis is easily one of the more astonishing components of his time in the land of movie magic and yes he is one film helmer who has been fairly successful….but at the same time it really is fun to see him make an enjoyable movie that reminds us as movie goers of just what it was about him as a film maker that initially made him someone to keep an eye on. Suffice it to say that with the release of the new slice of horror-tinged cinematic pie that is Malignant, Wan has shown us just that. Not only that, but I would even go so far as to say that Wan has sent a very clear and very riveting message to all of us movie goers. That being that if Wan gets an idea for a scary movie in his idea that just won’t go away then get ready because we’re about to see something truly unlike any other. Indeed yes this movie does have its fair share of flaws, but at the same time the cast in front of the camera and the work done by Wan and his creative team behind the camera are still able to come together and give us a movie that I promise is the most brilliant mix of chilling, just plain fun, and WTF that I have seen so far this year.
The plot is as follows: Penned by a writer by the name of Akela Cooper and inspired by a novel idea conjured up (pun intended) by film helmer Wan and his significant other Ingrid Bisu (who incidentally also has a co-starring role in the film), the slice of cinematic pie that is Malignant is one that captures your attention right from the word go with a flashback that showcases a wide variety of bloody mayhem at a hospital of sorts and from that point forward brings on quite a bit in the way of surprise and delightful creativity that will leave you stunned as this movie makes its way to a third act that is just crazy in the best way possible. Thus, given the distinct way in which this slice of cinematic pie chooses to operate, I can also tell you that this movie (more than a lot of others I have written about) is insanely hard to discuss with you in terms of narrative without tripping up and revealing something I shouldn’t (a concept incidentally that I am very much against doing at all costs). I guess therefore what I can tell you is that at the core of this otherworldly tale of terror is a young woman by the name of Madison. A young woman who, we quite quickly learn, is in the throes of that anxiety-ridden time of any woman’s life that is being pregnant with a child, but especially so for our heroine since she has been the unfortunate victim of several miscarriages along the way. It also doesn’t help that her being pregnant has become a fountain of stress between our heroine and her spouse Derek and especially when Derek is the kind of jerk who has no qualms whatsoever about being the kind of guy who gets physical in the relationship (and not in a good way). Yet as frightening as the circumstance of having an abusive spouse is, it is nothing compared to what begins to occur from that point on as we see that this is the moment when an enigmatic….acquaintance I guess you could call him from Madison’s youth by the name of Gabriel decides to come back and start causing all kinds of chaos to occur.
Now I think I will do you all a favor and just put an abrupt (yet appropriate) stop to my plot description right there. That’s because not only is everything I told you completely and utterly NOT a spoiler (thus keeping my promise), but because the plot description I’ve given you only takes you through things that go on in the first half hour of this film thus subtly pushing you in the direction of seeing the movie so you get the rest of the story (mwhaha). If anything, I guess I can add that from the point I left off on forward, the narrative only gets crazier from there with the exception of a lull around halfway through the film. Even with that lull in play though, this movie presents you with a plethora of puzzles to solve including Gabriel’s origins, why is he doing what he’s doing, and how exactly are he and our heroine connected and I can promise you that all of these puzzles will keep you guessing until the moment where the movie is set to present you with answers. Sure you might figure parts of this movie out, but I can still promise you that you will be stunned when everything comes together. It also doesn’t hurt this film that a main reason for how it is able to keep you riveted to what’s going on is the performances given in this by the truly gifted cast with perhaps the standout performance being the one given by the film’s lead actress Annabelle Wallis. Yes the character of Madison is one that is a fairly odd part found at the core of a fairly odd film, but Wallis still does a great job at giving us a three-dimensional character that is a wonderful mix of relatability, pathos, and pure Grade-A terror.
Now, besides operating as a movie that could be seen as Wan “going back to basics”, I am also convinced that this film is Wan’s loving tribute to the Italian Giallo subgenre of horror cinema (a subgenre that produced such iconic horror entries as 1975’s Suspiria from Dario Argento). Yet even though the final product is more Wan than Argento, I can also say that it is still impressive to see Wan engage in the large camera movements made popular by that subgenre of horror cinema. Thus although we do get Wan’s typically incredible camera work that sees any amount of space become truly terrifying, he also manages to go a lot more grand with the camera than normal (with such examples including a look from the air as we see a character run inside a multi-story home) and there is also some top-notch editing done that helps to give this movie a novel vibe. Yet perhaps one of the best things this aesthetic has going for it is how it conjures up a distinct wink and nod-type attitude to the proceedings and Wan is brilliant for choosing to embrace it wholeheartedly. As a result not only does this attitude give you a degree of fun in seeing Gabriel slaughter people with his distinct dagger, but it also possesses a type of meta respect for its craziness contributed mostly through its distinct dynamic police detective duo in the forms of one Kekoa Shaw and his seemingly always exasperated by her partner, the toils of the job, or both Regina Moss. No this movie won’t make you roll over laughing, but it does have just the right degree of comedy necessary to keep the suspense palpable. Finally, without going into specifics, I also think praise should be given for the twisted yet intelligent creation that is Gabriel. Indeed not only is he just mesmerizing to watch in terms of sheer brutality, but Gabriel really is at the core of every component that is top-flight about this movie and I can easily see this character being one that is both instantly iconic, but also one that audiences will clamor to see more of.
All in all looking at this in the most basic way possible, I think it can quite easily be said that Malignant is most assuredly not a slice of cinematic pie that iconic film helmer James Wan desperately had to go out and make by any stretch of the imagination. This is because in the long gone year of 2018 he helmed the, at the time of this writing, highest grossing entry in the DECU (if that’s even what that’s still being called nowadays) and thus it looked like all the ducks were in a row for his next directorial effort to be 2022’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Instead, Wan decided that before jumping back onto a more commercial project, he decided to sneak one in that was a bit more of something he considered to be akin to a passion project and I can safely say that we as movie goers should be glad he did. Indeed Malignant might not be a slice of horror cinema for everyone, but this is one delightfully off the wall horror experience that I feel only James Wan could have brought to us in a way that is both thrilling and unexpected. Suffice it to say then that, flaws aside, I definitely think you should check this movie out. I promise that it’ll be a decision you won’t regret. On a scale of 1-5 I give Malignant a solid 3.5 out of 5.