A new vision of terror.
Malignant is a 2021 horror film directed by James Wan, written by Akela Cooper, produced by New Line Cinema, Starlight Media Inc., My Entertainment Inc., and Atomic Monster Productions, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film stars Annabelle Wallis and Maddie Hasson. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
"Somehow, I'm seeing murders. Like he's showing them to me." -Madison Mitchell
Madison Mitchell is haunted by visions of terrifying murders. As Maddie continues to see these murders play out, she becomes more and more distant and insane. When a dark connection to her past is involved in this string of killings, Maddie finds out that she's closer than ever to the killer himself.
Setting / Plot Twists / Tension Build / Jump Scares / Use of Music or Lack Thereof / James Wan's Direction / Annabelle Wallis / Generic Horror Tropes / Dumb Decisions / Story Stretched Too Thin / Visualization of Gabriel and the Kills / Pacing
Malignant is the fourth horror movie I've seen this year. The others that I have seen include Spiral, A Quiet Place Part II, and Candyman. I'd say that, out of those, Spiral is the scariest by far. Malignant is scarier than both Quiet Place and Candyman, but not extremely scary. Just giving you an idea of how scary this movie actually is.
One of the scariest things about Malignant is the setting. Maddie's house is a scary, dimly lit place that has a lot of hallways, windows, doors, and mirrors. The set is used incredibly well so that you are never quite comfortable inside of the house. And since the majority of the movie takes place inside the house, it's a pretty tense viewing experience.
The film also has a few great plot twists. The final reveal is shocking and disturbing, and offers a satisfying answer to the mystery of the movie. It's not on the level of The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, but it's a clever way to answer your questions in a satisfying way. There are also other, smaller plot twists that also give you moments of surprise throughout the film. The script is really good at setting something up and then having a twist that re-frames the entire narrative. It's a great little thing to have a twist every half hour or so.
The tension during the scenes with Gabriel are also fantastic. I'll talk about this later down, but James Wan is so good at building tension within scenes. While the pace of the film itself is a problem, the pacing of the thrilling scenes is perfect. It knows when to have a loud jump scare and when to have characters creeping around in the dark: it's really well done. You will be on the edge of your seat for most of these said scenes.
Along those same lines, the jump scares in this film are incredibly effective. There aren't a ton of them, but every single jump scare will make you crap your pants. James Wan has always been good at jump scares, and that follows through with Malignant. The scenes with jump scares are stretched out so long that you truly have no idea when a jump scare is coming or not. And that's a really smart way to direct a horror movie.
The film is also great at building tension by excluding music from certain scenes. There are scenes that are just silent. Instead of having a creepy, ominous score in the background, the makers of this movie made a great decision to just take music out of the scene. Music can be used to great effect inside of a horror movie (Jaws) but it can also ruin tension inside of a scene. They seemed to know that in Malignant, therefore deciding to not use it in the scarier scenes.
And I know I've complimented it in other paragraphs, but James Wan does an amazing job with this movie. I'd say that he is one of the top working directors today, and he just continues to solidify his place as an iconic horror director with Malignant. Of course, Malignant won't have the influence that Saw or The Conjuring had, but it's still a fun little horror movie that is directed with masterful craft and beautiful cinematography from James Wan. He's always great at framing hallways and mirrors, and he combines them with his expert long takes.
Annabelle Wallis, who plays the main character, does a great job of being this slightly crazy, disturbed, and broken main protagonist that has a truly horrific past. Her performance makes you all the more uneasy, and it's really fantastic when actors and actresses are able tom make you feel uncomfortable with a performance. The two most uncomfortable performances ever are Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler and Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker. Wallis obviously isn't them, but she does a pretty good job with making you uncomfortable.
I would say that Malignant has a lot of the usual horror movie tropes. There are killings. The protagonist is connected to the killings somehow. No one really believes the protagonist because everyone thinks she's crazy. Even though the thrills and suspenseful scenes do work, they are pretty generic. The killer will randomly and magically disappear. Lights go out right before the killer shows up. Doors creak open. It's so weirdly cliche. And, because these tropes are used so much in horror movies, none of the scenes with kills feel unique. They all feel like a different version of a scene that you've seen before.
Another big trope in horror movies are characters making dumb decisions. Hell, that's basically what Scream makes fun of. But in Malignant, characters make such bad decisions in situations where it's so obviously the wrong decision. You can get away with characters doing that a few times when the decision isn't too ridiculous, but the choices that the characters make are so incompetent. No person in their right mind would do what these characters do.
My biggest problem with this movie, however, is that there simply is not enough story in this movie to fill an hour and fifty-one minutes of runtime. 80% of this movie is kind of the same thing. The police are trying to find the killer. There's mystery surrounding Madison's past. And everyone twenty or so minutes, there's a really thrilling and scary scene. This pattern repeats until we get the twist at the end, which leads into an underwhelming and somewhat stupid looking final sequence. This pattern and lack of story makes the movie feel an hour longer than it actually is.
I also hate the way that they visualized Gabriel, the villain. They try to make him look scary and gross, which he does...but then you have that final sequence where they show what he really looks like and it is laughable how bad it looks. I also think that the kills are terrible. They are generic and not creative at all. Sure, there's splurts of blood and absolutely gnarly deaths, but none of them are done with the usual craft of James Wan. Most of them are just really bloody stabbings.
The film's pace is also really skewed. As I said before, the film follows a pattern because it doesn't have enough story, so, naturally, it's paced pretty badly. Thrilling and exciting scenes are followed by scenes that come off as very talky and boring, with loads and loads of exposition. That makes the movie feel even longer than it already feels, and I did not like that.
Analogy and Final Score
Malignant is like silly putty. This specific silly putty is stretched out to a point where it almost breaks in half, but never does. When you roll it back up again, it's pretty satisfying. But you also don't like the feeling of it being stretched out that much.
I do think I will go Savory here. Age range is 13+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 7/10
Directed by James Wan
Rated R for strong bloody violence, frightening and intense scenes, language, sexual content, disturbing themes, thematic elements
Released on September 10, 2021
1 hour and 51 minutes
Annabelle Wallis as Madison Mitchell
Maddie Hasson as Sydney Lake
George Young as Kekoa Shaw
Michole Briana White as Regina Moss
Jean Louise Kelly as Serena May
Susanna Thompson as Jeanne Lake
Jake Abel as Derek Mitchell
Jacqueline McKenzie as Dr. Florence Weaver
Christian Clemenson as Dr. Victor Fields