Malignant (2021)

Director: James Wan
Writer: Akela Cooper, James Wan, Ingrid Bisu
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Ingrid Bisu, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, Amir AboulEla, Zoë Bell
Seen on: 13.9.2021

Content Note: domestic violence, miscarriage

Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) and her boyfriend Derek (Jake Abel) are expecting a baby, but things aren’t great between them, to say the least. After he gets aggressive with her again and slams her into a wall, a dark figure shows up in their home and kills Derek. Maddie is hurt herself and loses her baby. Deep in shock, she is unable to answer her sister Sydney’s (Maddie Hasson) or police detective Shaw’s (George Young) questions. When Maddie finally gets home from the hospital, she wants to start fresh. Instead she is haunted by nightmarish visions – that turn out to be of real murders. If Maddie doesn’t figure out what is going on soon, more people will die.

Malignant is expertly set in scene – as you’d expect from a Wan horror movie. But I was not sold on the story that meanders somewhere between psychological character study and B-movie shlock. Both can be good, but the combination here does both a disservice.

THe film poster showing the drawing of a woman in profile lying on her back. A shadow is over her face that looks like a face and a bloody knife is above them.

Insidious and Conjuring are both really good, and very scary horror movies. They are pretty serious about scaring the bejesus out of you, and successful at it. So that’s kinda what I expected from Malignant as well. But it is not what I got (maybe Malignant is more in tune with Saw, but it’s been so long that I saw it that I can’t say). Malignant isn’t particularly scary, even when it tries to be.

The problem is that the plot, starting with the first scene and then with all the twists and turns it takes, would have needed a completely different atmosphere to work. One that doesn’t take itself so very seriously and acknowledges just how ridiculous things really are in this film.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) lying in bed with a shocked expression, red light illuminating her face, the background behind her crumbling.

Instead we get bombarded with heavy topics like domestic violence and miscarriages that don’t really get the attention they deserve. Plus, character decisions that would have been acceptable in a film that had more fun with its premise, feel flimsy among all that trauma (why wouldn’t Sydney know, for example, that Maddie was adopted?).

Despite those caveats and on a purely technical level, the film is really excellent. The cinematography and lighting are spot-on, as is the soundtrack. I can’t fault the film with the way it was made, not even with the way it tries to connect both of it halves from the beginning. Just with the direction it took for the story it tells (and for a frankly superproblematic scene in jail where all of the incarcerated women are shown to be aggressive stereotypes – except Maddie).

So by all means, go for it, maybe the film will come together better for you than it did for me. Just don’t expect too much.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) being interveiwed by the police.

Summarizing: okay.

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