James Wan is the architect of Saw and The Conjuring Universe, both of which are multi-billion dollar horror properties, while he’s also been involved as a director, writer or executive producer on Dead Silence, Death Sentence, the Insidious series, Demonic and Lights Out.
On top of that, he’s the only director not named James Cameron to helm two movies from different franchises that earned in excess of ten figures at the box office thanks to Fast & Furious 7 and Aquaman, so he’s not just about scares; he’s arguably one of the most successful Hollywood filmmakers of the last fifteen years.
However, due to his franchise commitments, originality in Wan’s work has been sorely lacking recently. In fact, Malignant marks the first original feature he’s helmed that isn’t rooted in some semblance of reality or a pre-existing property in eleven years. As a result, the 44 year-old’s latest effort is a product of his unfiltered imagination and unbridled creativity, and quite possibly the single most insane thing to come out of Hollywood this year.
There’s a reason why the finer points of Malignant‘s plot have been kept under wraps until today’s release; even describing the narrative in the broadest of strokes runs the risk of giving the game away. Don’t worry though, we’ll be keeping things spoiler free for a completely bonkers trip that’s about as unpredictable as you can possibly imagine.
The operative word to describe Malignant is ‘messy’. That’s not to call it a mess, because it’s not. In fact, it’s beautifully put together and boasts some impressive camerawork, atmospheric cinematography, top quality visual effects and a handful of excellent performances. There’s a wonderfully chaotic undertone to almost everything that happens throughout the 111-minute running time, and Wan knows exactly what he’s doing.
Wan and his wife Ingrid Bisu initially came up with the story, and it’ll make you wonder what the hell those two talk about at the dinner table. To give you an impression of what we’re dealing with, it’ll take you maybe 20 minutes to get into the same rhythm as the co-writer and director as Malignant opens with a succession of jarring tonal shifts.
By the end of the first act we’ve witnessed a grandstanding and gory opening scene that segues into an uncomfortable exploration of domestic abuse, which then abruptly pivots directly into haunted house territory. On top of that, murder mystery tropes come into play when a pair of bickering cops enter the fray, before elements of the slasher subgenre make their presence felt in exceedingly bloody fashion. Malignant is partly an examination of how childhood trauma can manifest itself later in life, but there’s also a demon that knows parkour, so you better strap in tight if you want to get on board.
Annabelle Wallis’ Madison Mitchell suddenly becomes plagued by visions of murders as they unfold, which she initially puts down to her sleep paralysis. However, when victims start turning up having suffered the exact same fate she witnessed in her dreams, it turns out that her nightmares are all too real. That’s honestly about as much as we can say in terms of specifics, because anything else is revealing too much.
Such an unashamedly bats*t movie needs one hell of a central performance to keep things as grounded as they can be, and Wallis delivers in spades. The actress is phenomenal, and even as things become increasingly outlandish as Malignant progresses, she sells everything with the utmost conviction, even when there are a handful of moments past the midway point that are more likely to make you buckle with laughter than recoil in terror.
If another director had made Malignant, then they’d no doubt be pilloried for it, because a lot of people are going to absolutely hate this movie. However, Wan embraces the ever-shifting style and tone, offering just enough of a wink and a nod towards audiences and diehard fans of the genre without breaking the rules of his own mythology. Rest assured, though; the third act is going to be a major talking point online for several days to come, because it’s nuts.
Wan plays his hand very early when it comes to revealing his supernatural big bad. For a while, you think that maybe he’s rushed the grand unveiling, but then you discover it’s only building to a crescendo of sheer insanity. Once Malignant slams its game-changing card on the table, you’re either in or you’re out. The last 30 minutes are a cavalcade of rug-pulling revelations, grisly deaths, shootouts, family heart-to-hearts, hallucinations and CGI-slathered confessionals, to the point that you’re half expecting a kitchen sink to appear at any moment. Malignant is going to prove incredibly polarizing, but we can guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like it.
Malignant is messy, chaotic, ridiculous and quite possibly the most insane movie you'll see this year, but James Wan doesn't just know that; he uses it to his advantage.