Remakes are nothing new. They made up like 98% of the horror output through the 2000s, and though they have slowed to allow room for other types of storytelling (legacy sequels remain the current hotness), they are still very much a part of the horror landscape. The standard remakes are really no-brainers—a film reaches a certain age and the studio might want to breathe new life into it for an opportune release. Or maybe a director has a particular vision or a way to spin it for a more modern audience. And of course, foreign films are often remade in the US to make them more appealing to an American audience. The smallest subsection of remakes is a little harder to understand, and often leave audiences wondering, “Why?”
These are the ones that fall somewhere in the middle. The originals aren’t really that old, they were released in the US and very often the original filmmaker is involved. A semi-recent example is the remake of Cabin Fever that Eli Roth produced a few years back—exact same script but directed by Travis Zariwny and taking on an entirely new tone. These instances often feel like an interesting though unnecessary exercise.
Malum sort of lines up with that. It takes the same premise as the 2014 film Last Shift. Both films were directed by Anthony DiBlasi (from a script cowritten by DiBlasi and Scott Poiley). Malum opens with the police raiding a satanic cult and freeing three girls they have kidnapped and imprisoned. Back at the station, Captain Loren (Eric Olson) is receiving kudos from his colleagues for leading the operation, but he regrets that he was unable to save the last girl being held captive. Despite the less-than-ideal outcome, the cult has been broken up and its leading members imprisoned. Loren tries to be satisfied with his work, but something is pulling at the back of his mind. That something quickly takes over, controlling his conscious thoughts and leading him to gun down several officers in his precinct before he is finally shot and killed.
A year later, Loren’s daughter Jessica (Jessica Sula) has decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the police force. When we join her, she is preparing for her very first shift. The loss of her father has left a hole in her life and Jessica has taken this career turn to try to bridge that gap. Her first assignment is to stand guard at the old precinct where her father died. The police force is in the process of moving to a newer facility, and the old building has one night remaining before it closes its doors for good.
What probably should have been a quiet night is anything but. From the get-go, Jessica receives strange phone calls, is interrupted by a confused homeless person on the building’s stairs, and even begins seeing things. She slowly learns that there is a lot about her father’s final days that has been kept from her, and that her own family history is indelibly connected with the events that would ultimately lead to her father’s demise. A job that was supposed to bring her closer to her father’s memory, something that she wanted to do to honor him, is actually the key to unlocking the diabolic plan of the cult that is still very much operating.
Taken on its own, Malum is a decently creepy movie. DiBlasi has always been good at creating effective stories and introducing unhinged ghosts, killers, or all of the above at exactly the right moment. Malum definitely stands up to that. We quickly get the sense that the empty police station isn’t really that empty at all, and DiBlasi proceeds to slowly introduce the ghosts, memories, and demonic influences that still call the building home. It has this great haunted house vibe to it, where anything can appear at any moment. The script feels a little thin in a couple of places, and the cult elements can be a bit grating, but all in all, it’s a pretty solid creepfest.
But then, so was Last Shift. There are definitely differences between the two—it’s not a straight copy of the original film. The new script works to tie Jessica a little more specifically to the events that took place at the farm with the cult, and there is a reason for them wanting to come after her now. It’s less “wrong place, wrong time” in this version. And while the character of Jessica is written to be a very capable character in both stories, in Malum she feels a bit more like the rookie that she is. A little more nervous and not quite as self-possessed.
Perhaps the strongest change simply comes with the fact that the script is a bit more built out in Malum. It gives Jessica reasonable and unbending reasons for continuing to stay in the station even after it becomes absolutely clear that what she is experiencing is much more sinister than prank calls and weird electrical fluctuations. The pacing is a bit tighter as well, with her fear and unease on a steady trajectory as the horrors of the station reveal themselves rather than constant emotional resets.
It’s an interesting exercise, because DiBlasi and Poiley didn’t remake the world when fashioning this script. It’s less that one film is decidedly stronger than the other, but more that they serve as interesting companion pieces to one another. The plots are more or less interchangeable, but the teams pull out some very different effects work in each film, and it’s all pretty successfully executed.
So all in all, Malum is a decent frightfest that is definitely worth your time—especially if you haven’t seen Last Shift yet. And if you have, I recommend giving Malum a watch anyway. Even if you largely know the story, there are some new elements added here, as well as some unexpected moments. It’s a fun time in a haunted police station, and who doesn’t enjoy that?
Movie Score: 3.5/5