‘Malignant’ Review: Wan’s Latest Horror Effort is Messy but Fun
By Daniel Rester
Modern master of horror James Wan has returned to the genre with Malignant. He goes for less of a spooky atmosphere with the film compared to his last few horror films, instead crafting a supernatural slasher with wild and campy qualities. It doesn’t stack up with Wan’s best horror efforts, Saw (2004) and The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016), but it does offer some entertainment despite having a jumbled nature.
Malignant, scripted by Akela Cooper, stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison Lake. She lives in Seattle with her abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel). After a tragic incident involving Derek and Madison’s unborn baby, Madison begins to have strange visions. These involve Madison seeing a dark-cloaked person murdering people in different locations. As she looks into the matter, Madison discovers that she may have a past connection to the killer known as “Gabriel.”
Wan doesn’t really decide what he wants Malignant to be until the third act, with a twist that is somewhat predictable but also crazy in a welcome way. The first two acts shift around in tone, with serious supernatural horror, old-school slasher, police procedural, and Lucio Fulci-esque elements coming together in an uneven way. These acts can drag at times while the third act moves fast after introducing Basket Case (1982) and The Matrix (1999) qualities. That’s something I never thought I’d say.
That third act will be a make or break moment for audience members. I was on board for its gory lunacy. The first two acts offer some solid scenes too despite being more mixed-up. There’s an exciting chase scene involving old city streets buried below modern Seattle. Wan also gives some playful suspense to the early kill scenes. Gabriel hides in the shadows and the camera reveals just enough in the background and foreground to make the audience explore the frames. Michael Burgess’ cinematography is certainly a plus throughout because of such moments.
Wallis is a bit melodramatic as Madison. The character has some layers to her with her issues with miscarriages and connection to Gabriel, but I never really bought the actress in the role. She definitely puts forward effort physically though, there’s no denying that. Supporting actors like Maddie Hasson and George Young do their best in stock roles like the caring sister and skeptical detective, respectively.
More interesting is Gabriel, who has potential to become an icon if given some sequels and further development. His ultimate look ends up being pretty creepy, though I won’t spoil how. He’s a threatening presence throughout Malignant and is a character horror fans are likely to remember.
Malignant has a cool antagonist, superior cinematography, and a memorably nutty third act. The first two acts and the actors and characters can be hit and miss though, though they’re never fully terrible either. The film doesn’t stack up with the best of Wan’s horror projects, but it is entertaining and it has franchise potential if Wan decides he wants to do more with Gabriel.
My Grade: 7/10 (letter grade equivalent: B)
Running Time: 1h 51min