I love horror and there are some horror film directors that cause me to have a reaction like a kid on Christmas morning when I walk into a cinema to watch their latest film. James Wan (Saw) is certainly one of those directors and given that his latest film Malignant received its worldwide premiere while we were still in lockdown I was pretty much like a kid expecting to get a new PlayStaton for Christmas by the time I sat down to watch the film, sadly though I left the film feeling like a kid that had just opened his presents and got socks instead.
The premise behind Malignant is a pretty decent one. The film begins in 1992 with Dr Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie – Romper Stomper), Dr. Victor Fields (Christian Clemenson – Apollo 13) and Dr John Gregory (Amir AboulEla – Why Women Kill) treating a psychiatric patient named Gabriel (Ray Chase – Final Fantasy XV) in a facility. Gabriel suddenly shows that he has special abilities and is able to broadcast his thoughts through speakers. Then he turns violent and kills several staff members.
The film then flashes forward 27 years and we find a pregnant Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis – Annabelle) stuck in a relationship with her abusive partner, Derek (Jake Abel – Supernatural). After Derek assaults her during an argument he is attacked by an intruder in the home who kills him. The intruder then attacks Madison killing her unborn baby.
With the help of Madison’s sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson – God Bless America), soon she finds herself talking to two Police Detectives, Kekoa Shaw (George Young – Home) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White – Encino Man), and as they work on the case she finds herself having visions of murders that all seem to be connected while also learning about secrets from her life that she has never known.
The story behind the ‘horror’ of Malignant is creative and brilliant but for some reason this time around Wan lets small things get in the way of his storytelling. Some of the special effects throughout the film look a little dodgy, and I am not buying the whole ‘it’s an ode to schlock horror’ excuse, while the screenplay itself seems to let the film down from time to time by trying to put some wise cracks and humour into scenes where it doesn’t seem to work.
A great example to me was the character of Regina Moss. Okay, by all means create a hard-assed Police Detective who takes no crap from anybody. But why did it have to be done in almost comical way? Why not instead make her more like the character of Trudi in Chicago P.D. Every other character in that show knows Trudi can be a bitch and she will shoot down anybody with her vicious words, but at least there it is done without the writers ever going into the comedy side of things.
To me it felt like such a shame that things like that held back Malignant because on every other level this film worked. The twists and turns with secrets being exposed everywhere is classic James Wan story-telling and to a certain extent Akela Cooper’s (The 100) captures that vision well, if they had just lost the attempted B-Grade mood and out of place moments of humour then this could have been one of the best horror films of the last decade.
To the film’s credit the casting works. Madison Mitchell does more than enough to show that she is more than capable of carrying a film while Maddie Hasson often steals the scenes that she is in. George Young shines as Detective Young and I can only hope that I see the three of them in more roles in the future.
Malignant is far from one of Wan’s best films. To me it felt like a good story trapped behind a filmmaker wanting to pay too much of an ode to horror films of the past. Malignant certainly won’t bore any horror fans out there but it certainly isn’t a highlight of the year either.