- Directed by James Wan
- September 10, 2021
A woman’s horrific visions take on a terrifying reality.
There will be spoilers in this. If you don’t like spoilers, then stop reading now.
I had not heard of this movie until pretty recently let alone known it was a James Wan project, so this was a pleasant surprise for me to learn of. Holy crap is this good! The man has an ability to craft very interesting unique horror films. They tend to be the better ones of the genre when he is behind the camera and if he is simply producing, they still tend to be a few steps above the usual offerings.
Ever since I have learned of and watched Malignant, I have also learned that film is very divisive. I am not sure why this film is so polarizing. It is not so much scary as it is weird and at points disturbing with a fantastic twist at the end. It even has elements that remind me of some of the more enjoyable 80s horror films. My understanding is that this homage to 80s horror was intentional on the part of Wan. I think many professional critics (as opposed to us amateurs) look down on those. The horror films of that era often had a sense of fun and such a thing is often verboten today.
I think this such an amazing movie. From an action standpoint it is awesome and over the top. There were points I rewatched scenes because I could not believe what I saw. As for the story there are elements that are just bonkers. There are points that will have you going “WTF?!” They are just that surprising or out there.
The story centers on a young woman named Madison “Maddie” Lake-Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) who is in an abusive relationship with Derek (Jake Abel). At the start of the film she is pregnant again having lost two previous children in miscarriages. After being struck by Derek where he knocked Maddie’s head against a wall and knocked her unconscious, Maddie discovers Derek horribly killed.
This begins a series of shocking visions where Maddie witnesses the murder of individuals connected to her forgotten past. Visions that turn out to be startlingly accurate which puts her in the police crosshairs.
There are no huge names in this movie. At least nobody that I really recognize as being in much of anything else other than Susanna Thompson who played the Borg Queen in three episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. Here she plays Maddie’s adoptive mother. I am not calling these people an untalented cast. Everyone does great in their part. I am just saying you do not need big names for a good film. Just talent.
Early in the film Maddie is talking to her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) and reveals that she (Maddie) is adopted and the reason she stayed with Derek was because she wanted to know what it was like to have a biological connection with someone.
The adoption reveal feels like one of those unnecessarily tragic events from an 80s horror film in line with the reveal of Freddy Krueger’s parentage. I actually rolled my eyes at that reveal but when it came to the end of the film I understood it so much better. It connects very well to Maddie’s current situation.
Brought into this story because of the death of Derek are Det. Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Det. Regina Moss (Michole Briana White). Shaw is a bit more open minded on the events of the film while Moss is laser focused on Maddie as being responsible for the rising body count. As with any 80s horror containing a character dynamic like this, both are correct.
One character that bothered me in Malignant was the minor character of CST Winnie (Ingrid Bisu). She has an obvious crush on Shaw and gets inappropriately flirty with him at crime scenes. It is weird and tends to slow things up. Bisu is Wan’s wife in real life so I am not sure how she got the part. Complete mystery. I think Wan could have done so much better here with her. Maybe have the characters in an actual relationship and exclude Shaw’s flirting with Sydney.
There is a spoiler coming up. A serious spoiler so you are warned.
You are led to expect the explanation for everything to be supernatural. Malignant is a horror movie after all and supernatural is often the default explanation for things. The thing is the explanation is not necessarily supernatural but closer to extreme science. Maybe even you could call it science-fiction.
Everything that has occurred here is because the central character of Maddie had a parasitic twin (teratoma) to the extreme. This thing has managed to develop into a more or less thinking creature. In the context of the film it shares the brain of Maddie and has been influencing her. All the strangeness that has occurred is because of this parasite called Gabriel (Marina Mazepa performance/Ray Chase voice). Maddie has not been having visions but rather watching what Gabriel has done when he has taken over her body.
Through a combination of shock therapy (which explains the issues with electrical electricity when Gabriel shows up) and surgery to remove aspects of Gabriel as well as push him into Maddie’s head, Gabriel has been suppressed for years until Derek woke him up when he struck Maddie’s head against the wall.
When they reveal that the truth about Gabriel you will be pushed back into your seat in serious shock. It is a very “Holy crap!” moment. The surprise you will feel is something few films can actually achieve.
And the finale when Gabriel finally gets full control of Maddie is just balls out insane. There is carnage galore in a jail cell and it is just amazing. Wan channeled his experiences directing Aquaman here. The action is the type of thing you might see in a comic book movie but fits in with what he does here.
While being held in a jail cell Maddie rips open her head just enough for Gabriel to pop out when he takes control. Interestingly, because of how Gabriel was attached and suppressed, Gabriel does everything backwards for us yet forwards for him. It is something that took a little thought. A lazier director probably would have not gone through the difficulty of doing what Wan did. Love him or hate him, he does think things through in his fictional universes.
The script is just amazing and will keep you hooked from beginning to end. It has great dialogue with sprinklings of humor and action and horror. The characters are engaging enough that you care. They are not disposable. Wan is able to make horror films with broad appeal that are also really good. Not an easy thing to do.
Other directors can make horror films with a specific type of appeal but they may not appeal to the masses. This is not a swipe at either group. Wan is just a very good director and knows how to make something broadly appealing that is also unique and very good. We need both.
Malignant is yet another fantastic horror film from James Wan. He is a modern master of horror films. This is definitely a must see.