Since 2004’s Saw, director James Wan has been pushing the envelope of over the top horrors and his latest Malignant is no exception. In fact, it is likely to become the film that Wan is most associated with, for better or worse.
When Madison’s (Annabelle Wallis) husband turns up brutally killed she begins to experiecne visions of a series of murders. As the body count rises so Madison enlists the help of her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) to dig into her past only to discover a disturbing connection to the killer.
There was a time, a long time ago, when, as an impressionable youngster, you would walk into a video shop and select your weekend viewing based purely on the image on a video cassette, its rating and maybe a bit of the blurb on the back. As such the covers were often designed to grab your attention and few did this as effectively as horror films. Malignant feels like one of those films you’d casually select in your formative years and be utterly bowled over by its sheer over the top, jaw-dropping, often stupid premise. You can even picture the cover in your mind, Madison, a look of terror in her eyes, standing in a bathroom as something appears behind her in a mirror.
Clearly influenced by the films of Dario Argento, specifically his more outlandish works like Phenomena, Wan has conjured a horror of pure madness. The first third feels very much from the filmmaker who brought us the likes of The Conjuring and Insidious, all creeping dread, brimming with atmospherics and smartly worked set pieces. The second and third act however are Wan dialling it up to 11, think his Aquaman with giant crabs and fish-people riding great whites. It’s nuts, the kind of film that is going to either have you shouting ‘what the actual fudge am I watching?’ or ‘this is batsh*t brilliant, I don’t care it makes no sense whatsoever.’
While it is certainly going to be an acquired taste there is no denying the bravery it takes to first think of such an idea, then pitch it and finally actually convince a studio to part with millions to make it. The biggest issue is to be this mad you have to be a little more tonally aware than Malignant is. There are times you wonder if some of the terrible acting is intentional, perhaps pointing to those ‘80s horror that were made on a shoestring and cast unknowns in order to create some bang average visual effect. But it’s never a constant throughout so feels more likely to be actors doing their very best to bring to life a clunky script.
Had it gone down the Scream or Cabin In The Woods mold of film you could not only forgive its sins but could embrace and celebrate them. Instead it is entirely too poe faced to be anything other than laughable in the wrong ways.
Massive kudos for the lunacy of it but Malignant is a film so crazy and ridiculous its rarely anything less than stupidly, crazily, over the top stupid, stupid.