My favorite horror movies are the ones from the '80s that embraced wild, crazy concepts -- A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, Phantasm II, etc. Malignant reminded me of those pictures. Director James Wan apparently earned enough goodwill from The Conjuring and Aquaman to convince Warner Bros. to finance this unapologetically out-there chiller. Maybe the outrageousness will turn off viewers looking for a more conventional fright flick. Anyone with a taste for the bold, however, will find plenty to admire and enjoy.
Annabelle Wallis plays Madison, a pregnant woman whose husband Derek is physically abusive. After he slams her head into a wall, two things happen: she loses the baby and a shadowy entity kills him gruesomely. Without revealing too much, more murders occur, with Madison somehow able to see them as they take place. There is a mystery connection between her and the killer. Two cops, Kekow Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), try to figure out what's going on, while sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) helps Madison unravel her hazy past in search of clues.
If I told you what was so crazy about Malignant, it would ruin the fun. Suffice to say, the killer is named Gabriel, and I don't think there's ever been a cinematic slayer like him before. The revelation of who/what he is contains a level of macabre ingenuity that we don't get enough of in modern-day horror. Beyond that, his abilities are fascinating. He moves in parkour-like fashion, and the way he fights is something you've got to see to believe.
Is it absurd? Absolutely, yet Wan tells this story with such energy and visual flair that it's easy to suspend disbelief. Parts of Malignant are jaw-droppingly violent, other parts darkly funny. In terms of imagery and plot, Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper want to give us sights we've never seen before. Perhaps realizing that The Conjuring and Insidious (which he also directed) employed a traditional, if well-executed horror style, Wan throws the rule book out the window, taking a big swing with an unconventional approach.
Credit also goes to Annabelle Wallis, who does what every lead performer in a big, crazy horror flick needs to do -- ground the proceedings by providing a level of humanity we can identify with. Madison learns several shocking things about herself, and the actress ensures we don't lose sight of her personal arc amid the bloody, gory stuff. Without that, the bonkers events that transpire in the last half-hour would carry no weight. Wallis guarantees the finale has meaning.
Malignant is beautifully photographed, with Gaillo-influenced uses of color that accentuate the strangeness of the plot. Coasting would have been easy for Wan at this stage of his career. Instead, he goes for something creative and challenging. Not everything works – the supporting characters are on the one-dimensional side, and a few sections in the first act drag slightly – but it's nice to see a horror filmmaker taking risks within the studio system.
out of four
Malignant is rated R for strong horror violence and gruesome images, and for language. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.