Malignant follows a woman who begins to see visions of murders after a traumatic night in which she is attacked by an unknown assailant. She must try to solve the reason behind her connection before the killer strikes again.
[This movie was viewed on HBOMax (and is also in theaters) at the time of this review.]
James Wan is one of the safest bets in horror for me. And until recently, I would have said the same even for the extended universe of films that are ghost-directed. But even as films such as The Nun, The Conjuring 3, and a couple of the Annabelle's were letdowns to varying degrees, I felt confident I could catch any of Wan's horror work and walk away satisfied. And I must say that thankfully Malignant continues that trend.
I feel like it's been a while since I've enjoyed a horror movie as much as Malignant. Its character development is on-the-nose and the writing and acting feel like a low-budget 80s slasher at times, but the absurd plot, fresh antagonist, and trademark-Wan cinematography make for an absolutely entertaining film.
I found myself laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of what I was watching as the final act hit, but it was so fantastic and original and insane that I found myself loving every second of it. Wan's veteran skill behind the camera made for some fun horror and action sequences throughout. As he often does, he challenged unique angles, transitions, and zooms throughout that helped keep otherwise familiar territory dynamic. Wan is a victim of his own success, and his effective brand of horror is now rampant throughout the films based on the universe he initially created. So it takes extra effort to maintain originality, and Wan is able to keep that going at least through his desire to film every scene with intentionality and style.
There were times, especially through the first hour, that felt a little unoriginal. The structure of the story was familiar and the "person has visions of the killer in action" trope was at first only interesting because of Wan's keen eye for making it visually engaging. After an opening sequence that made you question what exactly you were walking into, it fell back in some unassuming devices that didn't feel as unique as the rest of the piece. And while I'm the first to get excited for a runtime over an hour and a half, this movie feels like it could have been trimmed down a tad.
There was one element of the film that certainly felt unnecessary to me...This factor is introduced early on, in the opening moments of the film in fact, but it isn't evident in the trailer so a spoiler warning is worth mentioning now...The antagonist of the film has some kind of manipulation with electricity. And this simple concept contained most of my issues with the film. Firstly, the "entity messes with electronics" trope has been done countless times, so it hurt the originality of the film. Secondly, it doesn't feel like it's ever properly explored as to how or why. Which leads to the third point that it doesn't feel necessary to the plot. If anything it severely weakens the "believability" of the rest of the story and dilutes the rest of the character's incredibly interesting attributes, that are far more intriguing to explore. Much of the plot, however ridiculous, has some semblance of reality that it's pulling from, and the "oh yeah, it messes with electricity" element felt like a half-hearted add-on to flicker some lights. (Spoilers over.)
And while I didn't care for that idea and there are some minor flaws in the pacing, plot structure, blunt writing, and hammy acting...I really enjoyed Malignant. The final act is insane (even if you see it coming) and has some of the best payoff in a horror movie I have seen in a while. I can totally see someone laughing like I did because they're enjoying it so much, and others laughing while they find the controller to turn it off/walk out of the theater. For me, there was too much to love and too much to enjoy. This is something I want to revisit soon.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 9/10
Horror Quality: 8/10
Film Quality: 6/10