Malignant ★★★★

MALIGNANT is a delightful answer to a question I never thought to ask myself (shame on me):

What if the Lifetime or Hallmark movie-of-the-week was a demented $40 million horror gore-fest?

Horror fans probably have smarter comparisons to make than that. I'm sure there's a long list of grindhouse American slashers and cult giallo gems that have a more direct connection to MALIGNANT's charmingly low-rent insanity, but the core of what makes the film work--to me--is how it evokes the amateurish, soap-y melodrama of made-for-basic cable thrillers. It has all the usual stuff--domestic violence, family secrets, repressed memories, bland actors, strained performances, etc.--only, you know, there's also buckets of blood and some really freaky shit.

In that sense, the movie that MALIGNANT reminded me of most is A DEADLY ADOPTION, the Lifetime original movie that is indistinguishable from every other Lifetime original movie but for one crucial detail--it stars Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. Ferrell and Wiig play it straight but their mere presence is transformational. Lifetime original movies are always hilarious but casting two comedy mega-stars in the lead makes A DEADLY ADOPTION's hilarity intentional, which is very different. So it is with MALIGNANT, a movie that changes one detail--the plot mechanics are really fucked up and gory--thus turning the film into knowing parody.

James Wan has done this before. FURIOUS SEVEN is both a logical escalation of the FAST franchise's increasing detachment from reality and a parody of the same. AQUAMAN is both a straightforward superhero origin story and an overblown, intentionally-silly rendering of modern fetch-quest, end-every-scene-with-an-explosion blockbusters. Wan has an uncanny ability to turn the proverbial dial up to 11.1 so that everything is just a little too ridiculous to be sincere but also not so ridiculous that it can't be sincere when and where it's dramatically convenient. He can do this because his control of tone is so perfect while also being so invisible that few have people will even notice how expertly they're being played. Wan is like Steven Spielberg or John Carpenter that way--he's so good that some people literally can't even see what he's doing. MALIGNANT only looks and feels like accidentally-great grindhouse shit. It's actually the highly intentional work of a ridiculously talented artist. It's so cool.

Also, I appreciate that the idea for MALIGNANT came from Wan's wife, actress Ingrid Bisu, and he made this glorious nonsense with and for her. What a guy.

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