Director: James Wan
Writers: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, Akela Cooper
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young
Released in 2021
For better or worse, you're not likely to see another horror film this year that's as bizarre as James Wan's new film Malignant. Wan has had a prolific career creating crowd-pleasing horror films which would go on to launch franchises, such as 2004's Saw, 2010's Insidious and 2013's The Conjuring. He's also been employed to take on a couple Hollywood mega blockbusters with Furious 7 and Aquaman. By all means he's a very successful film-maker, and he makes big money for studios. This can then possibly explain why a major studio like Warner Bros. would allow James Wan to release something as completely insane as this. If he's made them so much money through Aquaman and the various Conjuring films, here he's been allowed $40 million to make something a bit more off the wall and decisively not crowd-pleasing.
So what exactly is Malignant about? The trailer would have you believe it's a typical demon possession movie, like James Wan's previous films Insidious or The Conjuring. Characters tour spooky locations, there's an investigation ongoing and a mysterious entity is terrorising the lead character via visions that are spilling into real life. This doesn't really prepare you for how bonkers the movie ends up being though, and while the trailer does seem to hide it, from the very beginning of the film its intentions seem clear. This is a mid-budget b-movie. Full of schlock, graphic violence and absolutely absurd plot points. Without spoiling how incredibly bizarre the film gets, the general premise is that a woman begins having visions of people being murdered, only to realise the visions are happening for real and whether she likes it or not, she gets wrapped up in a wild ghost chase.
Right from the get go, there's a silly tone employed. The script is cheesy, the acting is over the top and the soundtrack is loud. There's no subtle build up or focus on atmosphere, it just goes wild from the start and so as a horror film, this isn't scary. A campy atmosphere and unconvincing scripting doesn't really help in that regard. It is very well shot and directed however, creating a strange dissonance as these days we're not really accustomed to seeing such expensive schlock. To some degree, it's exciting to see a b-movie script be given a budget it (arguably) deserves. While the first two acts have some lame drama in amongst the silliness, the third act is so insane it has to be seen to be believed. You're left thinking "what exactly is this movie?", since it's transcended being a horror film and becomes absolute nonsense, but in a very riveting fashion.
So while Malignant isn't for everyone, those who enjoy campy b-movies and horror movies that fall on the sillier side of the spectrum, like old Sam Raimi films or similar '80s slasher movies, this is a lot of fun. I laughed a lot, I groaned a lot, but above all I was consistently entertained. It helps the film's tone is so clearly self-knowing and James Wan's filmmaking is adept enough that it makes for a film that's exciting and unashamedly bizarre.
Recommended if you enjoy silly films, b-movies or just want to be surprised. Because this is so bizarre it kind of has to be seen to be believed, and honestly I think it would be cool if more $40 million b-movies were made!