‘Malignant’ is a mess

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“Malignant” is the latest HBO Max film to get a same-day theatrical and streaming release. The film comes from veteran horror film director James Wan, who has directed many hit films including “The Conjuring,” “Insidious” and “Saw.” “Malignant” isn’t nearly as good as those films, although there is a little fun to be had with just how bizarre and over-the-top the film is.  

“Malignant” stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison, a woman who has visions of violent murders that she later finds out actually happened. We are given some backstory about Madison’s childhood in a psychiatric ward, hinting at a possible connection between the murders and Madison’s childhood, which she doesn’t remember.  

The story is pretty unique for a horror film, if somewhat predictable. The first two acts of the film have the tone of a pretty standard psychological horror film, while the plot twist in the third act completely changes the tone of the film. The storyline becomes absolutely ridiculous in the third act, shifting from scenes of psychological horror to scenes of over-the-top action in the last 30 minutes. 

The tone is the biggest issue with the film. It would’ve worked better if it embraced either its campy side or its more serious side. Instead, we are left with a bizarre amalgamation of both. 

This is not to say there aren’t any great moments in the film, as Wan clearly knows how to direct an effective horror scene, and at times, it shows. There are some genuinely suspenseful horror scenes with inventive lighting and cinematography. There are also some hilarious scenes, some intentionally funny and some not, that stand out as highlights. Ultimately, the issue is the film never gels into a cohesive whole.  

The film is very well made from a technical standpoint. There are plenty of intricate sets, creative cinematography and a nice mixture of practical and digital effects. “Malignant” definitely feels more like a big-budget theatrical release than one of the many low-budget horror films constantly released on streaming services. 

Wallis’ lead performance is another praiseworthy aspect. Wallis nails the role of a psychologically tormented person and carries the film. The same cannot be said about the many actors in smaller roles, who give distractingly bad performances at times. In particular, the acting in the opening scene was so bad I wondered if it was intentional. (It wasn’t, it was just that bad.) Some actors in supporting roles give decent performances, but I’d be lying if I said I could name any of the characters five minutes after the movie was done.  

If you go into “Malignant” not expecting anything amazing, it could be fun. While the film wasn’t perfect, I do appreciate the fact that such an original and bizarre big-budget horror film was greenlit and given a big release. With so many horror films being derivative or just remakes of older films, I do appreciate that “Malignant” is distinctly unlike anything else I’ve seen before. 

I can see “Malignant” becoming a cult classic among horror movie fans because of its tonal shifts and campy moments. I do feel, however, that the average viewer looking for a straightforward psychological or supernatural horror film may be better off skipping “Malignant.” 

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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