As someone who has been a longtime fan of James Wan’s genre output, I was extremely excited when it was announced that he was going to be giving us another original horror movie to enjoy via Malignant. And the best compliment I can give Malignant is that I went into this movie thinking it was going to be one thing, and for a good portion of the film, it very much lulls you into thinking your expectations are spot-on. But by the time the second half kicks in, Wan delivers an experience that is so shockingly weird and jaw-droppingly unexpected, that I spent most of my time with my mouth agape and cackling at a variety of moments with unfettered glee.
There’s no doubt in my mind that with Malignant, Wan has created a movie that will undoubtedly be divisive amongst audiences, where mainstream fans will probably like the first half of the movie more, and us genre nuts who enjoy when our horror goes off the rails will definitely fall in love with the latter half more. But in any case, Malignant is my favorite thing I’ve seen from Wan since the first Insidious, and while it very much has all the earmarks of James’ creative spirit, you can definitely get a sense of his love for Fulci, Bava, and Argento with what he delivers in his latest.
Long story short: Malignant is easily one of the most brazenly bizarre studio horror efforts that I’ve seen in some time, and I absolutely loved it.
The setup of Malignant is pretty straightforward, as we follow a young woman named Madison (Annabelle Wallis), who begins having horrifying nightmares featuring an unknown figure committing grisly murders. Madison soon realizes that these nightmarish visions are happening in real life, and she must try and figure out just who is behind the butchery before she ends up taking the fall for the killer’s actions.
Sounds like your typical supernatural story, right? For sure. But there’s so much more going on in Malignant than that, but I wouldn’t dare dream of ruining the surprises for everyone else. The film definitely takes you on such an unpredictably twisted and terrifying ride that I want to make sure other horror fans get to enjoy it as this writer did, because I had a total blast with it. As mentioned earlier, the influences of Italian cinema are felt throughout Malignant, and I enjoyed how much Wan leans into the mind-boggling nature of giallos and just lets loose here with a narrative that takes some wild swings, and it all works exceedingly well. I’m hesitant to pinpoint exactly just which Italian horror influences seemed to loom over Malignant, as that could potentially give fans a few clues, but what I think Wan achieves here is something that very much wears its influences on its sleeves, but still feels wholly unique all the same, which is no easy feat.
On a visual level, Malignant is fantastic filmmaking from Wan and his cinematographer Michael Burgess that does a brilliant job of immersing viewers right into Madison’s horrifying experiences in an incredibly striking way. Malignant also has several excellent action set pieces that Burgess does a great job of capturing with fluid camera motions, where you can really process everything happening in those moments, that somehow make them look even more badass than they already are (and trust me, they are badass). There are also some ingenious camera movements in Madison’s home that reminded me of the famous crane shot from Tenebrae, in terms of how graceful its movements are as it establishes the locale visually. Wan also confidently crafts a handful of scares that are a lot of fun, and as far as Malignant’s kills are concerned, they are brutal and gruesome and do not hold back whatsoever.
Wallis’ performance in Malignant is great, too, especially when all the pieces of the film’s puzzle lock into place and certain things about Madison are revealed, because there are these very subtle aspects to her portrayal of her character that feel way more impactful once you fully understand what’s going on. But Wallis makes for an engaging emotional anchor here and there is shared infectious chemistry between Annabelle and Maddie Hasson, who plays her extremely devoted and determined sister in Malignant. The movie’s audio mix is pretty damn great, and it really adds a lot to the effectiveness of Malignant’s overall tone and atmosphere, and I really enjoyed Joseph Bishara’s score for the film as well.
As a whole, Malignant is shaping up to be the most surprising horror movie experience I’ve had this year, and I love just how unapologetically audacious the second half of the film is. I don’t know if Wan’s latest horror effort is going to work for everybody, but as someone who unabashedly loves the off-kilter nature of Italian horror (the weirder the better, in my opinion), Malignant sure as hell worked for me, and I cannot wait to see everyone’s reactions to Wan’s mad genius that’s fully on display here.
Movie Score: 4/5