Director James Wan, best known as of late for Aquaman, has had some success with horror films. The original Saw was almost good, while the first two Conjuring films and Insidious were legit scary.
With Malignant, he’s returned to horror—with mixed results. The film is a crazy gorefest with a decent mystery at its core. Wan shows an obvious love for ’80s camp horror; the style and story owe a lot to the likes of Evil Dead, Basket Case and Re-Animator. If you didn’t like those movies, you probably will not like this one.
Things start in the early ’90s, as a mad-scientist doctor (Jacqueline McKenzie) is dealing with a mischievous kid who 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.
The action then moves closer to today, as 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 is a lot of misdirection, as well as some bad acting—perhaps it’s purposeful, to heighten the camp factor—leading up to a final act in which Wan seems to basically loses his mind, as all of the seemingly disconnected plot threads come together to make sense in an insane sort of way. There’s a major WTF? factor with this one.
The movie includes a monster with a crazy origin. It reminds a bit of Asian horror ghosts mixed with an Evil Dead demon; it’s a memorable creation.
This is definitely Wan’s goriest film to date. Malignant doesn’t go for the creepy scares of The Conjuring and instead aims more for the splash factor. The final scenes feature some solid, choreographed carnage that are more Matrix than Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
As for the bad acting: It reminded me of the way in which 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—but if you let go and take it in as sort of a tribute to campy horror, it can work.
The film in Wan’s repertoire that has the most in common with Malignant isn’t a horror film; it’s Furious 7, a car-chase movie that was completely out of its mind, with cars jumping from one skyscraper to another. He similarly goes crazy here—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, but you’re 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 disgusting blast.
Malignant is the sort of guilty pleasure you’ll watch once and then move on. It’s not a classic, and it’s not all that good when you really get down to it. It’s an enjoyable junk-food movie that should delight genre enthusiasts, and nothing more.
Malignant is now playing at theaters across the valley.