Halloween is drawing ever nearer, which means we have reached that time of year where studios start chucking horror movies at us thick and fast! Over the last few weeks, we have seen the release of The Night House and Candyman, while May’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It has recently arrived on home video.
This week sees the debut of another new horror movie in the shape of Malignant. Directed by James Wan, the movie stars Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, and George Young, and tells the story of Madison Mitchell – a young woman who suffers from strange visions which are connected to a series of murders in her local area.
In the film, Madison and her husband are expecting a baby. However, while this should be a joyous occasion, things are far from perfect at home.
Madison’s husband is abusive, and takes his frustrations out on her. She has also suffered from a number of miscarriages prior to her current pregnancy, and now fears for the life of her unborn child.
One night, following a violent incident, Madison falls asleep in the bedroom, while her husband sleeps downstairs on the sofa. As she begins to dream, she sees her husband attacked and killed by a shadowy figure lurking in the house.
When Madison awakes, she heads down stairs to check on her husband, only to discover her nightmare was real. He has been killed, and there is a strange presence in her home.
A short while later, the police arrive, and take a statement. Madison’s account of events doesn’t quite add up, but they don’t have enough evidence to suggest that she was responsible for her husband’s murder.
But then, more murders begin to take place, all following a similar pattern and all sharing a connection to Madison. Is she the culprit or is there more to her story about the shadowy figure than it first appears?
OK, before delving into a review for Malignant, there are a couple of important things to get out of the way.
First up, if you live in the UK, you can watch Malignant in cinemas from today, as it is playing in your local cinema right now. However, if you live in the US, Malignant can be watched in cinemas or if you would prefer to watch it from home, it is also available to stream on HBO Max.
Second thing to note, I am going to tread as carefully as possible in my discussion of this movie. Malignant has a significant twist in the story, which I know the director wants to keep under wraps, and I have no intention of spoiling it here.
Right, now that I’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to talk about Malignant, which is a movie I have been looking forward to for some time. And now that I’ve seen it, I have very mixed feelings about what I just watched.
At times Malignant is good, it’s bad, and it’s a little bit in between. It’s certainly not the movie I expected, and this is both a plus and a minus.
Tonally, Malignant is all over the place. It begins with a prologue that looks as if it has been lifted from a B-movie, segues into a haunted house picture similar to The Conjuring films, glides into ‘90s slasher territory, and then descends into something else entirely.
Individually, all of the different components work, but when put together it becomes a messy patchwork that limps from one style to the next. One minute it tries to be scary, the next it attempts humour, then it goes for bloody violence.
I’m happy to see all of these things in a horror movie, but they need to be carefully balanced and blended. Malignant isn’t carefully balanced and it’s certainly not well blended.
The best material takes place towards the beginning of the movie, when the film is in its haunted house phase. Here director James Wan manages to play with the audience, inject some genuine scares, and create some suspense from the thing lurking in the shadows.
It’s here that Wan also gets to play around with the camera, utilising some suggestive P.O.V. shots which help to convey tension. All of this is good. All of it.
Then the story branches away from the house to move into new territory. This is where the ‘shadowy figure’ of the story is given more exposure, and where the film starts to lose its way.
From this point on, the film is no longer scary. As soon as the movie moves into this mid-section, it loses every ounce of terror, and this is where things start to get less interesting, for a lengthy period of time.
Things then begin to right themselves as the film slides into the latter stages, leading to the big reveal. Although the scares are long gone by this point, the film brings in some disturbing visuals and everything starts to look up again as soon as the ‘twist’ takes place.
However, I must say that while the big reveal of the movie is significant, it is not as clever as it thinks it is. The twist in the film is pretty obvious, and without blowing my own trumpet – well, maybe a little ‘toot-toot’ here and there – I guessed what was coming, long in advance.
But anyway, this is all good stuff. What is brought to the table here is interesting and it helps to bring the movie back together again.
And then things go completely out of the window, as the film goes off the boil for the finale, beginning with an action sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in The Matrix. I can’t explain what it’s all about – I’m still treading carefully, so not to include major spoilers – but this end sequence is bizarre and feels like it’s the work of a completely different director.
At times, while watching Malignant, I felt as if I was watching three different entries from the same horror franchise. The early scenes felt like the serious first movie, which establishes the franchise; the mid-section felt like the underwhelming sequel, that no one really cares for; and the end part felt like the bonkers direct-to-video three-quel, where all bets are off and only the die-hard fans are still paying attention.
To say this is the work of one director boggles my mind. Wan’s fingerprints are all over Malignant, yet at the same time, it feels like the work of multiple people, all helming different parts.
And if all that wasn’t enough, this film also contains some truly woeful acting. Some of the actors are fine, while others are so over the top, that I’m not entirely sure if their performances are intentional.
Did Wan want these performances? Did he want some actors to ham it up, while others take the whole thing seriously?! Honestly, I have no idea. Either way, it’s a bumpy ride.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, I hated Malignant, right? Well, no, I didn’t hate it.
As mentioned above, there is some really good material in this movie. Some of the ideas and visuals are very strong, and when it is firing on all cylinders, it’s great.
I also believe that plenty of horror fans will fall in love with it. Some of the more gruesome sequences are fantastic, and I’m sure this will be more than enough for many people.
But for me, this film just doesn’t work like it should. It struggles too much with its identity and the end result is a real hodge-podge.
I liked parts of it, and I’m open to letting it win me over in time, but for now it’s a misfire. So, there’s no hate, just plenty of disappointment.
If you’ve been looking forward to watching Malignant for some time, then give it a go and see what you think, but don’t go into this movie expecting a carefully considered picture, which will be the next big thing in horror. Malignant is a mesh of ideas and styles, which succeeds and fails in equal measure, and in my opinion is not James Wan’s best work.