Malignant ★★★

Malignant represents James Wan at his most ambitious, with both positive and negative results. Wan’s direction is clearly the highlight here. There are many sequences that are very well constructed. You can always see what’s going on, and the shot compositions are creative and striking. I was also hooked on the score, though it went too hard at times, to the point of distraction.
Alas, the writing and acting weren’t up to that standard. The performances are particularly spotty, particularly Annabelle Wallis’ flat, one-note turn as the lead. The supporting cast goes too far in the other direction, hamming it up like student actors. The screenplay is also a mess, containing some cringy “quotable” zingers. Callbacks abound, from the Eyes of Laura Mars way the protagonist psychically sees the kills as they happen to the Silent Hill style environmental transitions.
The first two acts build some intrigue and feel like a retread of the horror genre’s past. Act 1 specifically harkens back to Wan’s previous work in the haunted house subgenre, with flickering lights, random noises, disappearing shadows, and jump scares. The second act is more fun, clearly a callback to the Italian giallos old with its slasher and chase sequences, investigation scenes, and villain with leather gloves carrying a gaudy ornamental weapon and a penchant for taunting his victims in a raspy voice over the phone.
Then the final 25 minute third act hit and all I can say is WHAT THE FUCK. It certainly goes places. Taking cues from Cronenberg, Henenlotter, and even Tarantino, Wan’s last-minute stylistic shift toward glorious subversion makes all the previous tedium worth it. Overall, this was a very conflicting viewing experience. It did keep me entertained, although there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t work early on, leaving you to wonder if Wan still “has it.” Plus some of the inherent amusement comes in “so bad it’s good” ways.
If you stick it out though, you’ll find out Wan DEFINITELY still has “it,” and by “it” I mean balls of steel. While it’s got plenty of issues, Malignant truly original in a way most mainstream studio horror productions are too timid to attempt (this mostly applies to the last half hour). Not a fan of the weird pro-life-vs-pro-choice subtext though.

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