Directed by James Wan.
Starring Annabelle Wallis, George Young, Jake Abel, Maddie Hasson, Michole Briana White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Ingrid Bisu, Jon Lee Brody, Paula Marshall, Patrick Cox, Rachel Winfree, Marina Mazepa, Madison Wolfe, Ruben Pla, Mercedes Colon, Amir AboulEla, Christian Clemenson, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Patricia Velasquez, Andy Bean, Ray Chase, Zoë Bell, and Mckenna Grace.
Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.
Simultaneously outrageously dumb and go-for-broke madness that needs to be seen to be believed, director James Wan’s Malignant (from a story he conceived alongside Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper with the latter handling the screenplay) is the kind of no-holds-barred gonzo freakshow that a studio executive watchers in terror, not because the movie is scary but rather out of the realization that they have a different kind of nightmare on their hands; something unmarketable and nearly unexplainable that defies categorization (there are clear Giallo and slasher influences fused with the filmmaker’s typical fascination with demons, but beyond that, good luck pinning down precisely what Malignant is) to such a degree that Warner Bros. decided to hold the movie as long as possible until showing it to anyone.
There is an attempt to set the tone of this insanity, as a prologue set in 1993 depicts a team of doctors taking desperate measures to deal with a malicious entity capable of controlling electronic devices and communicating through speakers. Those two abilities are also normal compared to everything else in Malignant. This is also accomplished with over-the-top performances, a bombastic and cheesy score from Joseph Bishara, crash-zoom cinematography, and glimpses of grotesque violence teasing other horrific imagery. The key takeaway is that none of this is treated seriously; James Wan is not only freed from the shackles of a PG-13 rating (and the light R-rated fare of his The Conjuring movies), he seems to have no studio notes and has final cut on the project, seemingly making something that would fit right into the video nasty era and receive an X rating during the days of the original The Evil Dead.
It’s also a good thing that James Wan isn’t taking the narrative of Malignant seriously, considering it’s a diabolical piece of work employing everything from spousal abuse to rape as plot points. Of course, it could still be argued that the story has gotten way out of hand and that someone did need to step in to refine some of this in a manner that retains the mindless violence and wacky concept (even if you figure out what’s happening ahead of time, which is likely given the title of the movie, it’s impossible to prepare one for the absurdity of the final 20 minutes that are filled with laughs and winces among the carnage), but it’s also simply admirable watching the filmmaker push everything to the extreme.
Anyway, Malignant stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison, an emotionally and physically battered housewife trying to birth a child for husband Derek (Jake Abel), to no avail as miscarriages tend to be a recurring tragedy (again, James Wan is unrestrained and tossing every trauma he can think of into the mix). It’s also not long before the temperamental SOB is punching her, subsequently finding himself murdered by a demonic long-haired figure cloaked in black. Unfortunately, the sinister being is too late as Madison has lost another unborn baby.
The aftermath brings into the picture a pair of detectives played by George Young and Michole Briana White, turning Malignant into a goofy thriller where they start hunting down what Madison believes to be an imaginary friend named Gabriel (with some admittedly sinister voice work from Ray Chase, while Marina Mazepa handles the physical appearances complete with crab walking and other painful-looking displays of flexibility) enacting the killing. It’s also worth noting that Gabriel is wielding a ceremonial dagger of some kind, now turning his attention towards the doctors from the beginning of the film due to predictable reasons. Gabriel can also psychically link up with Madison, forcing her to observe the grisly slayings that contain appropriately hideous practical makeup effects.
The ideas are all there, but the actual story of Malignant is beyond silly, factoring in a sister for Madison that she reveals to be non-biologically related to with yet another dose of intentionally cringe-acting. A mysterious unnamed Jane Doe also happens to be the target of Gabriel, paving the way for yet another outlandishly dumb plot twist. There’s also the sensation that even if what’s transpiring on screen is technically entertaining, it’s all so unintentionally amusing to watch unfold that it’s nearly impossible to have a legitimate reaction. I’m not sure what I laughed harder at; a supposed demon running away by dropping down a fire escape one guardrail at a time with a detective in hot pursuit or that same detective having a chair thrown at him from across the room.
Of course, the narrative is also so cuckoo that plenty of elements straight up make no sense even in the context of supernatural affairs. Aspects of the ending (much like everything else here) prompt a resounding “WTF” but are easily dismissible considering the batshit insane fight sequence preceding it. Malignant is somewhere between a curious misfire and unfiltered genius from James Wan; it’s both terrible yet deserves to be seen for its deplorable imagination.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com