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Film Review: ‘Malignant’ Sees James Wan Return to the Horror Genre

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

James Wan made his bones with the horror genre. Saw was his breakthrough into filmmaking, with subsequent efforts including Dead Silence, Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter Two, and The Conjuring 2. Along the way, Wan became one of the bigger names in fright flicks. Then, of course, big franchises came calling in other genres. Now, however, he’s back with Malignant, and it sure seems like he misses scary movies. This gore-filled film is about as extreme as a studio effort of this nature can get. He’s really going all-out to try and change the game for non-independent horror. There are missteps here, to be sure, but the overall product is so audacious it really demands to be seen by genre fans.

Malignant is well-executed trash, and if that sounds like a good time to you, you’re gonna dig this flick. While really taking an original concept to the furthest extremes, it also just shows Wan just playing in the fields of horror. This is truly where he shines. The cheesy moments do stand out like sore thumbs, but the wildest moments stand out too, so you’re never even close to bored. Fair warning though…it’s best to go in as cold as possible, plot-wise. Warner Bros. is encouraging critics to avoid revealing the WTF moments and they couldn’t be more right about that.

Warner Bros.

As mentioned above, it’s pretty crucial to avoid spoilers here. So, I’ll keep the plot section here fairly brief. It starts with a bang, showcasing a mysterious and violent prologue set in a mental hospital. Then, we meet Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant yet battered woman. When her husband is murdered by what seems for all the money like a demon, no one believes what she’s seen. That will prove to be fatal for many.

As more bodies pile up, Madison sees visions of this creature murdering several people, including many from the hospital prologue. As a couple of detectives (George Young and Michole Briana White) investigate the slayings and Madison’s sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) attempts to help her, the demonic figure speaks. Getting in touch with Madison, he claims to be Gabriel, her imaginary friend from childhood. Things are only getting started from there, but that’s best left discovered, in all its blood-soaked glory…

Warner Bros.

The cast here is nothing to write home about. Truly, the concept and the gore are the stars, as opposed to the actors and actresses. Annabelle Wallis is serviceable here, but for most of the film is just scream queen. No one else leaves even close to an impact, and that’s a screenplay failing, but a lot of it is just the focus. Malignant is selling the supernatural slasher element more so than its cast, and that bleeds (no pun intended) over into the performances.

Filmmaker James Wan is having a lot of fun with Malignant, that’s for sure. Wan is going for a giallo-type vibe here, so it certainly won’t be for everyone. It’s also even gorier than Saw, if that’s possible. The movie, co-written by Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper, has some extraordinarily dumb moments, but they almost seem baked into the horror cake. Wan’s direction shines, however (minus the pacing, which is slack, making the flick feel about fifteen minutes too long), especially when it comes to some of the Gabriel-related violence. The third act, in particular, is something to behold.

Malignant is trashy, but in a fun way. It’s also something you’ve never quite seen before, so horror fans may be in for a treat. The movie is pretty absurd, not to mention absurdly violent, but it checks most of the boxes you want from horror. James Wan aficionados will undoubtedly want to see what he’s come up with here. Brace yourself for some extreme violence, but also something fairly new for the genre.

SCORE: ★★

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  1. Not gonna lie… I pretty much love this movie. If it came out in the 1980’s, it would be considered a cult classic and a staple of midnight college screenings.

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Written by Joey Magidson

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