Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Mckenna Grace, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel, Ray Chase, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson
Director: James Wan
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: I feel as if I should start a review of Malignant by dividing up the reader into two different categories. Are you the type of person that sees a horror film and need to have it grounded in some kind of truth, a reality that benefits from an explanation with sound science behind it? If you are, please step to the left and I can find you another movie later. For the rest of you still with me, I invite you to try out this ambitious bit of terror that unfurls itself slowly before taking several shots of adrenaline as it reaches its climax. It’s utter nonsense, let’s be real clear, and gets so crazy you almost wonder if it’s going to turn out to be some huge joke with a “Gotcha” dance break, but it’s in the way it takes itself so seriously that ultimately makes Malignant such a wild ride.
The movie locked me down almost from its first shot, the imposing Simion Research Hospital perched high on a cliff one rainy night in 1992. Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie, The Water Diviner) is documenting the study of her patient Gabriel when she’s suddenly called to his room to witness something…strange. Jumping ahead to 2019 and into the Seattle home of Madison (Annabelle Wallis, The Mummy) and her good for nothing husband Steve (Jake Abel, The Host), we barely get to meet the couple before we learn that Steve likes to rough up the pregnant Madison and that she’s lost several babies because of it. It’s during one row that he smashes her head up against a wall, leaving her bleeding from the back of her head and needing to lie down. Later that night, a ghostly figure appears and makes Madison a widow, eventually sending her to the hospital where she loses another baby. (Fear not of spoilers…this is all within the first 10 minutes!)
With the police investigating Steve’s strange death, Madison returns home with her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson, We Summon the Darkness) and let’s her in on a little secret: Madison was adopted when she was very young after being abandoned by her birth mother. She also had an imaginary friend when she was young…a boy named Gabriel. While Madison is putting her life back together and recovering, several other seemingly unrelated people are meeting the same dark figure that did-in wife beating Steve. One woman (Jean Louisa Kelly, Uncle Buck) is hunted down after giving a tour of Seattle’s underground city, others are violently slaughtered by the specter that walks funny and evades Detective Shaw (George Young) and Detective Moss (Michole Briana White, Songbird) with apparent ease. It’s during these new crimes that Madison starts to see visions of the killer at work, like she is actually there when it is happening.
Director James Wan, working from Akela Cooper’s (Hell Fest) script (which he gets a story credit on along with his wife Ingrid Bisu who also appears in the film), has a long history with creating iconic horror characters and/or series. An original creative behind the Saw series as well as directing Insidious and it’s sequel as well as The Conjuring and it’s follow-up, Wan fit in Malignant after directing Aquaman and before he set to work on the big-budget follow-up to that superhero film. This feels like a pet project that Warner Brothers let him roll with and perhaps why Wan pulls out all the tricks in his arsenal for a movie that’s way more fun to watch than dissect. There’s just too much bonkers business going on to take it all that seriously, even if some of the resolution has some grounding in science.
While the big reveal is a total doozy, it’s not close to the end of the film and it’s a credit not just to Wan but the rest of the cast that they are able to continue making the film engaging while carrying a rather strange idea to its bloody conclusion. It’s during that time when Wan goes heavy metal on the action with dynamic camera angles (the director has never met a multi-level house he can’t shoot entirely from above in an uninterrupted take as an actor goes from floor to floor) and limber stunt people to bend and twist their way around in largely practical physical acts that boggle the mind. It’s all very breathless and a tad exhausting…and I loved it.
It truly helps Wan has a cast that is taking the material deadly seriously. Were they to even wink slightly at the camera it would have broken the illusion that someone was in on the silliness of it all. With her dark hair and eye lined lids, Wallis is tortured soul personified and quite good as a wild-eyed woman putting together her past while trying to figure out if she needs to be worried more about her present. Wan tends to cast his leading females well and he’s got another bullseye here. Production elements are top notch and watching the film in 4K HD on HBOMax the cinematography from Michael Burgess (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) is spooky and spot-on.
When this is published, Malignant is sadly not available to watch on HBOMax (who’s the smartypants that decided it shouldn’t be available for Halloween??) but could be playing at a local theater near you. Try to catch it on a rainy night, because if you are in the right frame of mind, this is a decidedly good watch and fun for the “sure, ok, why not” explanation that meets viewers ninety minutes in. The cast is strong and Wan is more than prepared to present a film made with precision and skill. Don’t cut Malignant out of your queue without investigating it a little bit.
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