Malignant Review Ghost story murder mystery slasher body horror Giallo B-movie?

At a cool 76% Rotten Tomatoes score, and a more-telling 52% audience rating, it’s fair to say that Malignant is a divisive horror movie. Even though his first big movie was Saw, James Wan is much more well-known these days for kickstarting a legit cinematic horror universe with The Conjuring, and related spooky haunting movies like Insidious. So Malignant was clearly marketed as an extension of that brand, this time teasing an “imaginary friend” angle while sticking to familiar hints of paranormal activity. And for most of the first act, it seems that’s exactly what we’re getting, but then things take a rather strange turn…

I prefer to avoid spoiling newer movies here, so I’ll stick to vague descriptions of the twists and turns this movie takes – and boy are there plenty of those…

The movie opens on a raucous, violent hospital scene alluding to “Gabriel”, a vicious entity that is only glimpsed fleetingly out of focus and whom has slaughtered a number of doctors and nurses before being sedated and subjected to… something, described in the line, “Let’s cut out the cancer”. Flash forward to the present, and main heroine Madison is a troubled, pregnant wife of a crappy husband and has suffered multiple miscarriages of late. The night after said husband gets a little too aggressive, he is brutally murdered by a shadowy, long-haired figure and Madison sees the whole thing go down in… a dream? A psychic vision? A dissociative moment?

Madison proceeds to remotely witness more of these spooky murders in the coming nights, and becomes convinced it’s gotta be Gabriel, an invisible figure she vaguely remembers from her early childhood. All of this is pretty much spelled out in the trailer, but it only makes up the first act of the film.

You’ll certainly be forgiven if, like me, you try to guess the twist in advance. Is Gabriel real? Is Madison the real killer and she’s not aware or it? Again, no spoilers, but trust me when I say the details that unfold are A LOT more wacky and over the top than you expect. Hence why critic reviews for this movie are filled with words like “maniacal”, “outlandish”, “bonkers”, and even “stupid”. And it does tiptoe up to the line of “stupid” at times, but there’s no denying it’s a load of fun getting there. When all the cards are finally on the table it’s an orgy of blood and guts and races against the clock. Seriously, this might be the goriest James Wan movie yet (yes, including Saw).

The reason for the split audience reaction though, setting aside the misleading marketing campaign, is most likely tonal inconsistency. The opening is played deadly serious, with its abusive husband and mourning of miscarriages. The shocking violence isn’t that out of place in certain supernatural horror movies, but when things suddenly veer into slasher territory and the police become more involved, the tone pingpongs rapidly between somber and goofy and gory and thrilling and back around again. The true nature of “Gabriel” is just impossible to take seriously, and it’s kind of unclear whether or not we’re meant to…

All that being said, I found this movie fascinating. Not sure if I’ll watch it again, but it was certainly a fun way to spend a free evening. The way to go, it seems, is to simply sit back and let the movie do its thing, and leave your expectations at the door.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *