Malignant (2021)

There was a point while I was watching James Wan’s MALIGNANT when my eyeballs fell out of my head and rolled across the floor. I had to get down on my hands and knees, scoop them up and push the damn bastards back into my skull. It’s been far too long since a movie has surprised me to such a degree and I think I’d almost forgotten what a glorious experience that is. The brazen originality is even more astounding when you consider that the lion’s share of the film plays like a stroll through the horror section of a video store. It’s almost a Where’s Waldo? of horror homage; a colorful kaleidoscope spitting out splinters of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (’64), SUSPIRIA (’77), PHENOMENA (’85), NEXT OF KIN (’82), THE SENDER (’82), I MADMAN (89), DARKMAN (’90), BASKET CASE (’82), BRAIN DAMAGE (’88), SCISSORS (’91), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(’99), GOTHICA (’03) and so many more. Personally it made me feel like a pig in slop as so much of the set-up felt like a big budget remake of my personal pet fave MADHOUSE (‘81). But then, just as you’re snuggling into the safety of the familiar parading by to the beat of one fantastic score, the entire highly stylized snow globe is turned on its head and shook ferociously and an incredibly novel and exciting new beast emerges.

Annabelle Wallis (who’s got a wonderful Juliette Binoche meets Mary Steenburgen in DEAD OF WINTER (’87) vibe going on) plays Madison Mitchell, a very troubled and very pregnant woman with an abusive husband and a repressed past (her younger self is played by the always excellent Mckenna Grace). One evening her home is invaded by a sinister, shadowy figure that leaves her with a mutilated hubby, a null and void pregnancy and a big giant bouquet of flashbacks to a traumatizing childhood and psychic visions of murders as they occur. Madison is my favorite type of horror heroine in that she is an unapologetic, freaked-out mess that everyone thinks is crazy until the inevitable moment they do some light research and find the files that explain everything…well, almost everything. Lots of folks are going to find the over-the-top acting style and sometimes comic book-like approach a little too hokey to handle but I honestly found it refreshing not to be weighed down with tired faux-gritty “realism”. This flick is a long way from SAW (’04) and the further away we get from SAW the happier I seem to be.

MALIGNANT needn’t worry about cynical audiences and lukewarm box-office. This bad boy is destined to be obsessed over endlessly. No, it’s not for everybody but thems the breaks when you draw outside the lines and stake new ground. I get the feeling Wan followed his heart and made exactly the film he wanted to and maybe he too was missing the broad colorful strokes and heights of fantasy horror achieved in less dour decades. In the end, it doesn’t matter what specific titles or sub-genres influenced Wan, by and large he clearly meant to remind of us of a time when movies were freer and more fun and that goal was exceedingly met. I for one can’t stop thinking about this wild, phantasmic explosion of dream-like insanity and I’m so grateful knowing that I can still find myself completely shell-shocked by a horror film.

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SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
12 days ago

I’m not much of a fan of Saw, but I’m looking forward to seeing this one on Saturday night (my local Alamo Drafthouse has finally reopened). Unk, your review is encouraging!

Caffeinated Joe
Caffeinated Joe
12 days ago

I watched this and loved it. Great fun. People need to just relax and enjoy stuff sometimes. Life is too hard and too short. And this is too wonderfully weird.

popcornmonster
popcornmonster
11 days ago

I know with relative certainty which scene you’re referring to in the beginning of this review because I had the same reaction. I guessed to a good degree where they were going with the plot but missed one crucial detail and it was one of the most genuine WTF moments I’ve had watching a film.

I watched it in virtual reality as well which made it seem huge and loud rather than simply watching it on my TV. If you can’t see it in a theater (or don’t want to) this method is highly recommended.

dadaism_jive_slew
dadaism_jive_slew
11 days ago

100% agree, Unk! This movie was so gorgeous, so much fun, so surprising — everything except so-so! Annebelle Wallis was giving me Suzy Kendall vibes throughout. I’m thinking of going to see it again this weekend. More movies like this, I say! More bright colors, more fun, more craziness, please!

Luki8701
Luki8701
11 days ago

The reaction to this movie reminds me of Insidious Part 2, where Wan also fully committed to some bonkers, weird and fun ideas but had Whannel’s writing to still somewhat ground the whole thing.

Malignant does not touch the ground at all, it starts flying through the air and ends up somewhere in space. Such a wonderful little movie. Not perfect, some of it is really rough, but so much fun.

Chuckles72
Chuckles72
10 days ago

Unfortunately, I kinda figured out the … thing … about ten minutes in, so no eyeballs rolling here. At least not rolling outside of my head.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked it. But some of the dialogue – holy smokes. “Breaking news this hour as police are reporting the body of (spoiler) was found brutally murdered in her Washington park home this morning. The grisly discovery was made by the housekeeper at approximately 8:30 this morning.” Her body was murdered? Discovered in the morning you say?

Still, there are so many fun things going on – a fantastical underground Seattle with hidden alcoves full of old stagecoaches, Matrix-like chase and fight scenes, the most comically unrealistic police force ever filmed and tons of bonkers gore. I was cry-laughing during one nutso mass slaughter (I’ll let you guess which one).

I rate it four out of five psionic teratomas.

robstercraws
robstercraws
8 days ago

I haven’t watched this yet (that will be rectified in about three hours!), but I totally get what you’re saying about modern audiences relying too much on realism and being too cynical. All it takes is a casual stroll through the IMDb to witness reviewers piling on movies for the unforgivable sin of (gasp!) a minor plot hole or (heavens!) a scientific factoid gotten wrong or (land sakes!) a character not behaving in a completely rational fashion. With criteria like these, the Italian film industry would never have released anything! And it’s rather ironic, considering the glut of superhero movies being made these days, which aren’t exactly realistic.
Furthermore, I thought Saw was way overrated, what I saw of Aquaman was gag-inducing, and thought Insidious and The Conjuring looked very lame. But I’m willing to take a chance and watch Malignant in the theater (first theater movie in two years). It sounds just bizarre enough to be right up my alley!

SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
7 days ago

Just saw the film last night. Unk, you didn’t mention George Romero’s The Dark Half (or Stephen King’s novel), which came to my mind as I watched.