“Malignant” finds writer/director James Wan returning to his horror roots in a big way.
The advertisements have embraced the style of Giallo Italian splatter films, but the film feels more like the insane horror movies from the late 1970s and early 1980s (think “Basket Case”) – with an off-the-wall twist that will definitely get people talking.
The twist is pretty great – and really out there. The rest of the movie, not so much.
“Malignant” tells the story of Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant woman stuck in an abusive marriage. When her husband throws her against the wall, she locks herself in the bedroom and awakens the next morning to find he has been brutally murdered in the living room.
Now a possible murder suspect, Madison starts to see visions of more brutal murders – which start to unlock repressed memories of her past. Madison was adopted and had incidents involving an imaginary friend named Gabriel, which eventually went away.
Madison is convinced Gabriel is not only real, but he has returned – ready to wreak havoc on everyone in Madison’s life.
“Malignant” is kind of a slog for the first hour, with Wan using every visual trick in the book to make the material somewhat interesting. At times the acting is so bad that it almost feels like it is on purpose, with characters given dialogue that is so absurd it’s kind of comical.
Even as things appear to be way off track, Wan at least keeps this aura of suspicion that he has a payoff worthy of the wait. The payoff is definitely memorable, with the reveal leading to an absolutely bonkers last 30 minutes that is sure to alienate audiences. Many will roll with it and enjoy the crazy ride, while some may feel like Wan has really driven the film off the rails with no way to prevent it from being a cinematic train wreck.
I fall more into the latter category, willing to just roll with the insanity enough to be entertained. It’s still not enough to overcome a really rocky first half, but it is enough to at least tell horror fans to give it a chance.
“Malignant” will likely have a shelf life by developing a cult following, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of film that can find mass appeal. Credit goes to Wan for going all-in on crazy, but I’m still not sure it’s enough to truly recommend the film.