In a landscape where the year was rocked by creatures (A Quiet Place Part II), the devil (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It), and a hook-handed maniac (Candyman), arguably the most buzzed-about horror film of 2021 is James Wan’s Malignant. Starring Annabelle Wallis (Boss Level, Silent Night), Maddie Hasson (God Bless America, We Summon The Darkness), George Young (In The Room, Final Recipe), the film centers around Madison Mitchell, a young woman who has haunting visions of terrifying murders that are taking place around the neighborhood. First things first, this article will contain SPOILERS, so if you still want to see the film but don’t want to know about the twist then I strongly suggest you avoid reading further. Now, financially Malignant appears to have been a flop at the box office. That issue stems from the fact that Warner Brothers simply didn’t know how to promote this movie. On the surface, it’s a horror film, but when you dive deeply into the picture, it is a gonzo-crazy, campy film featuring elements of horror, action, and comedy. I’m not here saying that Malignant is the best horror you’ll ever see. In fact, I can’t even say it’s the best movie of the year!
The film does have its share of problems, namely an identity crisis. The opening when we see Gabriel wreaking havoc on the doctors is campy as hell. The dialogue is incredibly cheesy (and bad), but it’s directed in a way that Wan clearly knows that the opening scene is a mess. However, once we move on from that sequence, the movie moves into a more serious tone. For a good portion of the first and second act, the camp is gone. Sure, you can say that Gabriel doing parkour is beyond silly due to the fact that it’s Madison’s body, but the scenes aren’t played for intentional laughs. The campiness doesn’t really go back until the twist is revealed, where Gabriel is a parasitic twin of Madison. That jail scene is legendary. Never mind the fact that Madison’s body has somehow become this incredible super-being that kicks tons off a**. The twist brings life back into Malignant; however, it would’ve been helpful if Wan kept up the camp throughout the entire film. The tonal shift to the film being a balls-to-wall action film at the jail and police station can also be confusing, but to be honest, I was filled with so much joy over the madness that James Wan was presenting that I didn’t particularly care about the mishmash of the genres. Malignant won’t go down as one of the best horror films ever; however, this will surely be a midnight cult classic.
Malignant is in the vein of A Rocky Horror Show, Eraserhead, or Pink Flamingos, it’s weird, it’s bonkers, but darn it, it’s fun. Despite the messy tones, James Wan’s direction is filled with confidence throughout the film. The cinematography is top-notch and the camera angles are pretty cool. Kudos has to go to Annabelle Wallis, who pulls off a stellar performance in the movie. Wallis is essentially the glue that ties the film together, and the talented actress manages to smoothly capture the emotions that her role demands. Even in the final act, Wallis’s performance never feels over-the-top, which is actually a reason we’re able to connect with Madison so well. Of course, the core cast of the film is pretty good. The cops aren’t treated as imbeciles and George Young and Michole Briana White are likable. Madison Hasson brings a nice emotional counterbalance to the film. Again, the actress manages to roll with every situation that’s thrown at her and it’s a wonder that her performance remains so grounded.
As I’ve previously stated, Malignant isn’t a perfect film. I understand Akela Cooper scripting the first and second act as a generic supernatural horror film, but the twist feels more of a shock value than a well-earned one. Don’t get me wrong, all the pieces to the puzzle fit. The twist actually makes sense (minus Madison’s body getting this crazy amount of strength), but it feels that it’s part of another film. I emphasize this point because it does ruin the experience a bit, though Malignant wouldn’t have it’s midnight movie status without the crazy tonal shifts, would it? Either way, Malignant is the most fun horror movie of 2021 thus far. The movie is perfect for gathering your friends and watching along the crazy journey that James Wan presences us with.