Director James Wan has certainly had his moments when it comes to horror. The original Saw was almost good, while the first two Conjuring films and Insidious were legit scary.
With his latest, Malignant, he (thankfully) takes a break from Aquaman and returns to his happy horror place with mixed results. It’s a balls-out crazy gorefest with an obvious love for ’80s camp horror working off a pretty decent mystery at its core. The style and story owe a lot to the likes of Evil Dead, Basket Case and Re-Animator. Translation: If you didn’t like those movies, you most certainly will not like this one.
Things start in the early ’90s, when a mad scientist doctor (Jacqueline McKenzie) is dealing with some sort of mischievous kid that has caused a lot of mayhem in her ward. We see the kid through a curtain, and, well, the kid isn’t at all natural. Now, if you are really intent upon solving the film’s mystery early, pay attention to all details in this scene and the footage underneath the credits. They mean something.
The action then moves to somewhere closer to present day where a pregnant Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) is dealing with an abusive husband (Jake Abel). A confrontation is followed by a grisly death, and Kekoa Shaw (George Young) is sent in to investigate. What follows are a lot of misdirection and—perhaps purposefully to heighten the camp factor—bad acting leading up to a final act where Wan basically loses his mind. There’s a major WTF factor with this one.
The movie has a monster, and that monster has a crazy origin. Leading up to the final act, the film’s many plot threads make it feel like it is all over the place, but it all makes sense in an insane sort of way in the end. The movie monster reminds a bit of Asian horror ghosts mixed with your average Evil Dead demon. It’s a memorable creation.
This is definitely Wan’s goriest film to date, with many limbs being snapped in two and stomachs getting slashed. Malignant doesn’t go for the creepy scares of The Conjuring and aims more for the splash factor. The final scenes feature some solid, choreographed carnage that are more Matrix than Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The acting is bad in the way Cary Elwes chewed the scenery way too much in the final minutes of Saw. It is melodramatic on a grand scale, and it’s a bit grating at first. If you just sort of let go and take it in as sort of a tribute to campy horror, it can work. If you judge on the same level as, say, your typical Jane Austen film, then you will have a pretty bad time.
The film in Wan’s repertoire that has the most in common with this one isn’t a horror film; it’s Furious 7. Furious 7 was a car chase movie that was completely out of its mind, with parachuting cars and cars jumping from one skyscraper to another. Wan takes the horror genre and goes crazy in much the same way he entertainingly lost it making a car chase movie. And, let’s face it, this isn’t high art so don’t go in expecting to have your mind expanded. We’re all a little dumber after watching movies like this one.
As for that mystery, all of the clues are there for you to take in, but you are a pretty solid sleuth if you guess the eventual outcome without cheating. When the big reveal comes, it’s an “I should’ve known!” head smacker. It’s also a gross blast.
Malignant is the sort of guilty pleasure you’ll watch once and then move on. It’s not a classic, and it’ not all that good when you really get down to it. It’s an enjoyable junk food movie that should delight genre enthusiasts while leaving those who prefer a more gothic horror out in the cold.