I’ve been procrastinating on reviewing 2021’s James Wan splatter vehicle, Malignant since I saw it last weekend because if I’m being honest, I didn’t like it! There, I said it. Let me do my throat-clearing horror bona fides real quick: I love me all manner of horror. Conventional, off-the-wall, gore, psychological, slow-burn, experimental, on and on. Moreover, I can’t think of a subgenre within the horror genre I don’t like. Nonetheless, Wan’s film here didn’t work for me.
First, I will say, I love to see a director like Wan return to his roots. For those not familiar, Wan is obviously well-known within the horror world for the Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring franchises, but he’s also the man behind big blockbuster films like Furious 7 and Aquaman. To navigate back to horror after emerging into the blockbuster world is cool.
The general premise of Malignant is that Madison (played by Annabelle Wallis) is having terrifying visions, which she realizes are reality. She’s pregnant living with her abusive husband Derek (played by Jake Abel). Apparently, she’s miscarried a few times and Derek shockingly turns that into a gaslighting situation to tell Madison to stop killing his children. He then shoves her back against the wall bloodying the back of her head.
Later that night, Derek is brutally killed by some sort of dark figure.
That’s when Madison begins getting her visions, which are the reality of slayings. She tries to convince the Seattle Police Department and her sister, Sydney (played by Maddie) of this. Of course, they think she’s not in her right mind. Perhaps the trauma of losing another baby has her projecting. Or something.
The twist comes that Madison actually has a twin brother named Gabriel who lives within her body as an extreme version of a teratoma, or a tumor. He shares the same brain and spinal cord as her. They basically made Gabriel Voldemort sharing Professor Quirrell’s head from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The reason she’s having visions is that he’s the one doing the killings by taking over her body.
In addition, though, Gabriel somehow has the ability to speak through electronics and has superhuman strength and agility. The latter is put into ridiculously absurd (but fun) fashion when Gabriel breaks out of prison by killing every female prisoner imprisoned with him and then quite literally obliterating 99 percent of the Seattle Police Department. That’s where Wan’s splatter vehicle comes into full force and it’s most fun, I will say, even if it’s absurd.
That’s the thing. Everything after the twist is absurd, but it’s fun. Everything up until the twist was rather uneventful and not keeping my attention.
Also, as an aside, when somebody tells you there’s a twist in a film, that’s a spoiler! Now, I’m waiting for there to be a twist. Anyhow.
I do like that Madison was able to “reclaim” her bodily autonomy from Gabriel at the end when Gabriel sought to kill his truest perceived enemy, Sydney. Gabriel feels Madison left him for her. But Madison takes over and “locks” Gabriel away in her mind. That was neat.
Overall though, I think if the front half of the film was stronger, I’d have a more favorable view of the film. Also, if the dialogue was stronger. With all due respect to Akela Cooper’s script, a lot of the dialogue, particularly among the police, felt wooden and pedestrian, especially teasing a romantic connection between the lead detective and Sydney. She did four episodes of Luke Cage and I loved that show, so maybe it was just this project.
Again, though, I have to give respect to Wan for returning to his horror roots and giving the genre something pretty fresh and original, even if every beat didn’t work for me.