James Jay Edwards reviews Malignant, a horror film directed by James Wan from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, and starring Annabelle Wallis. (Warner Bros.)
In last week’s review of Martyrs Lane, I made fun of the fact that Malignant, the new return-to-horror from James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious), was not screened for many members of the press. Usually, this is a sign that the movie is bad and the studios have no confidence in it. Sometimes, it just means that they don’t need reviews to sell tickets. Neither of these is the case with Malignant. They just wanted to protect the secrets.
A movie like Malignant needs to be seen blind. The elevator pitch synopsis is that it’s about a woman named Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) who, after surviving a brutal home invasion, finds that she suffers from lucid visions of murder. They aren’t just visions, though—she seems to have developed a psychic link with the maniac who tried to kill her.
(Malignant, theatrical release poster, courtesy Warner Bros.)
There’s so much more to Malignant, but it’s best to discover the rest by watching it. Akela Cooper (Grimm, The 100) wrote the screenplay from a story idea that she cooked up with Wan and his wife, Ingrid Bisu (who was in The Nun and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It). It’s a mishmash of genres that, somehow, makes perfect sense within its own world. And it’s a wild ride.
Malignant reads like a love letter to the classic Italian giallo, which is the forefather to the modern slasher movie. Wan paints his imagery with the same vivid colors and tells his story with the same twisty tropes as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. But then he throws in nods, both subtle and not-so-subtle, to both Davids—Cronenberg and Lynch—along with blatant shoutouts to just about every other horror subgenre imaginable, until his movie becomes something almost indescribable. And that’s his point.
(Malignant, courtesy Warner Bros.)
James Wan doesn’t just toss all these genres in a blender, though. Malignant takes its audience on a trip that starts out firmly in Wan territory as a supernatural thriller, then takes a turn at each act to become a Halloween-esque slasher, a The Silence of the Lambs-like crime procedural, and even a Hostel-styled torture porn flick (among many others that might be too spoilery to list). And it does it without ever losing its own identity or making itself feel like an incoherent mess. There’s always a story at the center of Malignant. And a damn compelling one, too.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Martyrs Lane Creeps Its Way Through a Slow Burn Mystery
- The Madness Inside Me Is Technically Stunning, but Stumbles Over Its Story
- Nia DeCosta’s Candyman Dares You To “Say His Name”
Malignant is what you get when you give a big Hollywood director the freedom to make a B-movie. Malignant is what you get if Charles Band had made giallo movies. Malignant is what you get when a big fan of horror history decides to pay tribute to that horror history. Some viewers will dismiss Malignant as schlock for schlock’s sake, and that’s fine. It wasn’t made for those viewers. The viewers it was made for will recognize it for what it is—one of the most creative movies of the year.
Malignant is now streaming on HBO Max.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.