Review: 'Malignant'

By: Heather Seebach

Full disclosure: if I see the words "James" and "Wan" attached to a horror movie, I am automatically in. The Conjuring films are not always my cup of tea but Wan's scare-crafting skills are undeniable. I especially love when his films go a little nutty, like Insidious: Chapter 2. Well, Malignant turns that nuttiness up to 11. It swings for the fences and, although it suffers a few missteps along the way, Wan's outrageous return to splatter reminds us that the young Aussie who made Saw seventeen years ago has not lost an ounce of edge. 

Ever since Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) was injured in a brutal attack, she has suffered paralyzing visions wherein she is forced to bear witness to a series of grisly murders at the hands of a deformed serial killer. While helping the police catch the culprit, Madison must re-visit suppressed memories from her past that may unlock the key to the identity of the murderer. 

The horror influences are wide-reaching, running the gamut from Roman Polanski and Dario Argento to Sam Raimi and Frank Henenlotter. Even attempting to sub-categorize this film will run you in circles: Is it a haunted house story? A slasher? A psychological thriller? Perhaps all of the above? Malignant certainly keeps the viewer on their toes. Stylistically, the film is wild and daring with bold cinematography and the most in-your-face score since Suspiria. Longtime Wan collaborator Joseph Bishara delivers everything from the mournful strings of a ghost story to heavy metal chords that liken back to Charlie Clouser's Saw soundtrack. 

Bishara's score, along with Safari Riot's cover of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?", are featured so prominently that they feel like characters themselves. Where this gets the film into divisive territory is the intrusive use of the music during scene transitions, often undercutting tension or making a serious scene downright laughable. Not helping matters are clunky exposition and cheesy dialogue. I found myself cringing at these moments, and yet, by the time the movie was over, I couldn't even be mad about what doesn't work. 

Malignant won me over with sheer audacity and batshit craziness. There is an unfortunate lack of that quality in mainstream horror (or cinema in general). By the time this movie reached its climactic reveal, the gore was flying with reckless abandon and I was SMITTEN. I wanted to stand up and cheer right there in the theater. The prison sequence is one you will not soon forget and I dare anyone to be complaining about awkward transitions or corny dialogue at this point. 

Seeing Wan follow up Aquaman with a film like this reminded me of when Sam Raimi came back and made Drag Me To Hell after his stint directing Sony's Spider-Man films. For horror fans, it's like a warm-and-fuzzy feeling which reminds us that the low-budget horror auteurs we love are still in there. You can take the man out of horror but you can't take the horror nerd out of the man. Growing up on their work, we all know what talented filmmakers they are and are so proud for all their accomplishments but watching Raimi and Wan let their freak flags fly once more re-captured the first time we fell in love with them. Now, if only Peter Jackson would give us one last splatterfest... *dreamy sigh*

It almost feels like we are in on some hilarious prank that a film like this even gets to hit mainstream audiences. When I left the cinema, I heard some twenty-somethings call it "the worst movie they had ever seen." I had to laugh because this is not for them. They have never sat in a seedy auditorium at 3am watching obscure horror movies and screaming with joy when a movie reaches peak bonkers. People like us do not watch a lost 70s horror and lament the bad dialogue so why should modern horror be treated any different? If anything, I am more impressed when a new and/or mainstream horror film takes risks. 

Malignant is weird, flawed, and never not interesting. For all the influences it wears proudly on its proverbial sleeve, the film still feels original, like a shiny new amalgam of old parts. Wan has yet again demonstrated his passion for the genre, as well as his grasp on the broad and diverse elements that make it great. The fact that he has made horror films that both me AND my mother love speaks volumes. My anti-horror mother who can't even see a noseblood on-film absolutely adores James Wan for his Insidious and Conjuring films. She will NEVER watch Malignant, however, and that's okay. It is not for everyone. It is DePalma meets Darkman with a heaping dose of "what the fuck did I just watch?!" And that has my number all over it! 

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