Malignant Movie Review: A terrific ending saves this film
Though James Wan's latest release is burdened with some poor writing choices, its gory, intense second half makes you forgive what comes earlier
How deep can a blood connection go? For most creators, this idea would result in a family-friendly film. However, James Wan, the architect behind horror thrillers like the Saw series, Insidious series, The Conjuring series and Lights Out, is inspired to make people shake in terror. The result? Malignant. This latest horror film feels like the result of a cosmic dinner session between Wan, Ari Aster, Banjong Pisanthanakun, and Scott Derrickson.
Director: James Wan
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White
Malignant opens by showing us workers at a research facility struggle to anaesthetize a monster. This is where we get introduced to our lead character, Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a woman who is attempting to cope with her repeated miscarriage. After a mysterious entity attacks Madison and her abusive partner, the former keeps seeing visions of three brutal murders of three specific individuals. The hidden secrets are revealed by Maddie's sister Sydney Lake (Maddie Hasson) and detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young), while Maddie gets reminded of a familiar demon from her past.
Is this a creature-meets-a-demon film? Well, think of it as a red herring if you will. From the very beginning, Malignant also has Wan's signature all over: the eerie backdrop, all the shadow play, and of course, great use of music by Joseph Bishara, Wan's frequent collaborator. This is a filmmaker who has also seemingly mastered the art of utilising that overused horror film technique: jump scares. You panic and yet, you laugh, partly in nervousness.
Despite a promising start, the first hour of the film is rather cumbersome to sit through. Perhaps it is time that horror filmmakers stopped rehashing the much-abused idea of a victim who finds no takers for the story. The film also suffers from a lack of depth in characterisation. Characters seem to exist as devices to further plot. We don’t learn as much as we should about them. For instance, there's a funny crime scene investigator along the lines of Lucifer's Ella, but nothing comes of this character.
It is the final portions of the film that create a lasting impact. It’s a gory final reveal at a police facility and proves once again that Wan is quite the master of horror. The panic and disgust you feel are accentuated greatly by music and the visual effects. It’s not just about the scares though. It also makes you feel for Maddie’s struggles. For some, her resilience may even serve as a source of strength.
Wan's world in Malignant seems ripe for more stories in this setting. Details are left out of the back-story, and some unnatural occurrences are even left unexplained. It might feel a tad incomplete here, but that could well be a deliberate ploy to extend Maddie's story. Stay with the first half of this film and you shall be rewarded.