Many opinions have been thrown around about James Wan’s new horror film MALIGNANT, but one thing for certain is that movies like this one aren’t often released by a major studio. When the movie starts, it seems like a decent yet predictable slasher flick that is aiming to be a campy romp. However, even though MALIGNANT is definitely campy, by the end it becomes one of the wildest horror films of the year. Wan was clearly sick of creating watered-down PG-13 studio tentpoles like Aquaman and Furious 7, so he decides to make the most of his R-rating in this film and it’s all the better for it. Yes, much of the movie could be far better when it comes to acting and narrative, but the movie never stops being a bloody good time and it never takes itself seriously enough for the flaws to distract from the horror.
The plot starts out somewhat typically: Madison (Annabelle Wallis) starts to realize that something may be lurking in her large creepy-looking home in Seattle. However, once her abusive boyfriend is out of the picture, she starts getting terrifying visions of gory murders that are happening in real-life elsewhere across the city. Anything more revealed here could spoil the movie’s surprises, mainly because certain plot details in the first 20 or so minutes make the film appear to be predictable. The manner in which Wan introduces the narrative elements makes it seem like it will be easy to predict, but the movie has far more in store than the first act lets on. My personal prediction of how the narrative would play out didn’t end up being entirely wrong, but Wan goes way further with this concept than I anticipated, making for the craziest third act of 2021 so far.
While performances like Wallis in the lead role are solid, Wan’s direction is the star of the show here. If another director was helming this same screenplay, the end product would not have worked out near as well. He transforms generic scenes of demonic horror into tense and unpredictable sequences that never fail to unsettle the audience. The transitions from the realities of Madison’s life to the scenarios of the horrifying murders are great combinations of visual effects and Wan’s direction to create some creepy imagery. The pacing is very solid and makes it so that viewers are never bored even if people aren’t getting violently killed on-screen.
Most of my opinions on MALIGNANT involve the absurd ending, which elevates the film a cut above just another demonic possession horror movie. I had an absolute blast with the last 30 minutes, which involves some of the most bloody and conceptually bonkers filmmaking made by a major studio in recent memory. A lot of people may have gone into MALIGNANT thinking that it is a serious and psychological film akin to Insidious, which may be why many were disappointed. Wan wanted to make a campy throwback movie that horror fans could have a blast during, and on that level I think he succeeds with flying colors.