Directed By James Wan
Starring – Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young
The Plot – Madison (Wallis) is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.
Rated R for strong horror violence and gruesome images, and for adult language
– Superb direction. Nobody crafts atmospheric dread quite like James Wan. Whether in his use of shadows, which constantly manipulates audiences into questioning perception, or his hypnotically entrancing color schemes breeding imagination to the practicality of what can attribute visually to these sequences. The man is very much at the top of the game when it comes to environmental elements crafting a deeper purpose to the integrity of the narrative, bringing to life a nightmare world of subconscious that materializes itself in every single visual littered casually throughout the film. Because of such, “Malignant” is not only a fitting return to form for James, who has stepped away from horror since the incredibly underrated “The Conjuring 2” in 2016, but it also may be the single most committed embodiment of the environmental ingredients that he never loses sight or importance of, making this a can’t miss experience if you’ve followed the legendary career of the man who single-handedly brought meaning back to my favorite genre.
– Intricate steering. I wanted to give this a section in itself because Wan’s ambition, combined with Michael Burgess riveting cinematography, gives us a complexity for these sequences that challenges and contorts what seems possible within its many set pieces. The subtlety of movements involving slow-pans or revolving persistence around the characters are breathtakingly transfixing enough, but for my money the overhead sequence of Madison being stalked by something we can’t see, and only feel, is the show-stealer for me. It’s difficult enough to depict matters overhead in a way that maintains the urgency and anxiety of what is unraveling on ground, but what’s especially astounding is the way the camera weaves itself in and out of various rooms and walls with the kind fluid motion that has only been seen in drone videos, giving us a single-shot, long-take sequence so effortlessly constructed that it captivated me frozen while sitting in my seat.
– Channeled frights. It’s difficult to say any movie is scary when you’re 36 years-old. However, I will say that what I experienced in “Malignant” is probably the closest I’ve been to uneasiness since 2014’s “The Babadook”. It attains this rare commodity in contemporary cinema by withholding the urge to incorporate cheap, timely jump scares, and instead doubles down on grotesque bodily and psychological horror of the most paralyzing kind. Without spoiling anything, I will say that this is a movie that is certainly better knowing very little heading into it. I say that because its script constantly evolves and contorts in the same manner its otherworldly antagonist does, capturing and articulating everything about sleep paralysis and claustrophobia, but exporting it in a way that fleshes out those scenarios in a way that everyone outside of the captivity can experience them. When putting myself in Madison’s shoes, I find myself perplexed by the vulnerability and uncertainty of her predicament, which has her so isolated from the conveniences of resolution most typical in these movies. That alone makes this as uneasy of a sit as you’re going to experience in 2021.
– Show-stealer. There are now two Annabelle’s in the James Wan cinematic universe, and while the first made her living by being a sitting, starring embodiment of evil, the second is riveting for entirely different reasons. The first is in the emotional depth of Wallis’ capabilities, articulating the tragedy and immobilizing of Madison in a way that doesn’t require expositional dialogue or forced focus on her predicament to flesh out her despair. In addition to this, the surprising physicality of Annabelle’s embodiment gave way to bodily contortion and struggle in a way that vividly detailed the internal fight from within taking place. It offers an immersive quality to her performance that is harvested from a deep-seeded connection that she previously earned within the tragedies explained in her backstory, giving us the rare protagonist in horror who we invest in deeply through her many adversities in many forms within her life.
– Astonishing twist. Like a majority of Wan’s films, there’s a twist near the end that deconstructs everything previously established, and makes us interpret matters in an entirely different way moving forward. What’s exceptional about this twist, however, is that it truly is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before, in that it enhances the capabilities of an antagonist in a way that not only distorts reality for Madison, but also for us the audience, who only after now understand why certain disjointed matters within the story are the way they are. The twist is every bit satisfying as it is sensical to the kind of creative anatomy in rules and logic that was defined capably throughout the narrative, and the delivery comes at the perfect moment structurally within the context of events that serves as the culmination of everything known, unknown, and even unforeseen within this paranormal experience regressed to cerebral.
– Carnage candy. Is there any element of the horror experience more definitive than that of the meat of the material, which gives fans exhilaration? The answer is no, but even with that stated, the audience will be surprised at the element of restrain from Wan, until the moment when the release matters most. For roughly 85% of this movie, there are kill scenes, but nothing that is anywhere on the level of gruesome or even remotely exploitative in the elements of its brutality. But the other 15%, during the climactic unraveling of everything attained within the aforementioned twist, is a sight to behold, full of vicious visceral violence that pays off matters and expectations in a way where they can be felt the loudest, with unapologetic focus and grotesque depiction. If the coloring itself was the only perk, it would be fine enough, but the creativity pertaining to various kills gives it a startling imagination that never repeats or muddles the execution, making for a satisfying sedative that is Wan at his most brutally untamed.
– Musical mastery. Adding to the uniqueness and originality of the experience is a score from long time Wan collaborator Joseph Bishara, who composes a series of themes so unorthodox that they create a different audible depth to the way these scenes exert themselves. Most obviously distinguished is this hybrid of metal and electronica not typically associated with horror movies, but giving us an entanglement that excites audiences as much as it underlines the compelling terror. This is made especially captivating with an opening credit sequence that is not only a faithful homage to 80’s slasher favorites within their primes, but also a proper introduction to Wan’s layer of audible intensity, which proves that horror doesn’t need to sacrifice fun to be appealing to its hardcore enthusiasts. Fair warning, the first time you hear it will feel strange for how diverse its level of experimentation truly is, but as the film persists you’ll find yourself tapping the toes with the hint of synth that stirs the spectacle.
– Compromising camp. While Wan has always been a prophet of personality in the kind of horror films and tonal capacities that he stitches together, the layer of relief here doesn’t always articulate with the most beneficial of results. Such an example is in some of the dialogue and deliveries of the supporting cast, which were often unintentionally comical for all of the wrong reasons. Campy itself is a difficult thing to perfect in movies like these, but for my money I feel that a movie like “Malignant” shouldn’t require it in the least, if even just for the way it creates a distracting obstacle for my investment to the scenes. If it happened a couple of times throughout, I could easily forgive its interruptions, but considering it’s a consistent constant that is rivaled only by the supernatural force haunting Madison’s dreams and reality, it’s harder to accept as something necessary to themes of marital abuse or teenage sexuality, which deserves our unabashed focus.
– Fading essence. Because I’m so enamored with the practicality of what Wan and his team are able to accomplish behind the lens, and with its invigorating sound design, it pains me that much of its impulsive decisions lose their luster with an abundance of computer-generation that looked cheap more times than not. To be fair, I understand that a gimmick within the film requires C.G, or it wouldn’t be possible. However, my problem is more with the practicality of the elements within an environmental transformation, where only the character in frame persists with a naturally realistic enveloping. On top of this, the bigger problem is with the reveal of the movie’s antagonist, which could’ve been an iconic moment for the next big monster of contemporary horror, but instead felt too plain and cartoonish to nail the realism of its designs. For my money, I wish the film only used computer enhancements sporadically to enhance the practicality of designs, because using it too much takes away from the integrity of the manmade environment, and that’s the case here occasionally.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+