Director: James Wan
Writer: Akela Cooper
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young and Michole Brianna White
This year has undeniably been a great year for horror of all kinds and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. Malignant is the latest offering from one of modern horror’s great directors, James Wan. He has already proved himself horror-wise, with modern classics such as Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. His new film feels like this is already a classic from the 1980s that you haven’t seen before. It’s a film that holds nothing back and gives it everything it has.
After a home invasion that leaves Madison widowed and causes her to have a miscarriage, she finds herself having nightmares about people being killed. The events are actually happening simultaneously to her dreams, and Madison starts to believe that she has some kind of link with the killer.
After the opening scene, that leaves a lot to be explained while giving enough clues to help you start piecing it together, there is one of the most horrific moments of the film. It received gasps from the audience. It’s a quick, brutal moment of domestic violence that overshadows the extreme violence and gore for the rest of the film. It’s only a brief moment, but it’s powerful and resonates through to the end of the film. After this it takes a long time for any real violence or gore to happen on screen, for the first half of the film it’s mostly off camera, letting that one moment from the start be as impactful as possible.
James Wan perfectly builds a dark atmosphere straight away and you know scary things are going to happen, purely from little twists of the camera. There are so many moments when the camera starts to pan, and you can feel something bad is about to happen. It’ll have you holding on to the arms of your seat, with your heart pounding at multiple moments. Wan is clearly a great director and knows how to create tension, there’s some overhead shots that are magnificent and a chase sequence that will have you holding your breath. There are also a few jump scares, not an over reliance on them, but enough to keep your heart rate up.
The score, by Joseph Bishara, is fantastic. There are moments that feel like homages to what’s come before from Wan’s own Saw to Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s a haunting and chilling score that elevates each scene, building on the atmosphere to make something that at times is full of fear.
The performances are also excellent. Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders), is excellent as Madison. Her performance is great. Maddie Hasson (Twisted) is also great as Sydney, Maddison’s sister. She plays really nicely against Detective Shaw (George Young). The effects are also fantastic, apart from some noticeable CGI moments in the violence at the end, everything looks fantastic. The mind-trippy way the rooms meld into another when the killings happen are captivating to watch.
Around two thirds through the film, everything is revealed. As soon as it is you can relax. The atmosphere and tension quickly dissipate, and you can feel it almost instantly as if a switch has been flicked. In some ways it’s a relief, but it does make the remainder of the film feel like you’re just waiting for the end. It feels like the 3rd act is less of a horror film and more of an over-the-top action film, with an insane amount of blood and violence but very little tension or terror.
There are also a few things that stand out that can really take you out of the film. There’s a plot point where Detective Shaw finds a photo of Madison but doesn’t recognise her since it was taken nearly thirty years ago. He gets someone to age the photo up, but it’s clearly her. Why can’t he figure that out straight away, it feels like it happens this way purely due to the plot. If he figured it out sooner, one of the victims would have survived. Then when he does get the aged photo back, he goes off by himself to investigate the potential victim, with no back up or getting someone to check on the prime suspect. There are a few other moments later that really niggle away, and it completely takes you out of the film.
Malignant is still a good film, and aside from a few issues with the plot there is still more to like than dislike. It feels like it honours classic horror films, without ripping them off and has a lot of truly scary moments and builds up an atmosphere of extreme tension and suspense, it just doesn’t keep it up for the whole run time.