MALIGNANT (2021) is an insane horror spectacle from the mind of James Wan

James Wan, the undisputed master of modern horror, is back in the director’s chair for Malignant – a brutal, bloody and gory thrill-ride with a story guaranteed to shock audiences with its bold twists and turns. Malignant follows Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a woman haunted by visions of grizzly murders, who soon discovers that these visceral dreams are very much real.

From Saw and Dead Silence to Insidious and The Conjuring, James Wan’s library of horror creations each approach the genre from a slightly different angle, adopting a variety of tones and various levels of violence-driven scares. Malignant may be the strangest approach to horror yet for James Wan. There’s certainly a touch of this Saw-like atmosphere, while also delving a little into the realm of Insidious-esque scares. However, the distinct nature of this film is evident in the pacing. Rather than the usual approach of slowly building up the scares and thrills from light to heavy in the lead-up to the climax – Malignant comes out guns blazing with balls-to-the-wall horror, chills and distressing content. It really wastes absolutely no time in setting the stage for a marathon of bloody murders and chilling atmospheric scares, just throwing you right into the deep end and not letting you out.

It’s gory, it’s bloody and it’s absolutely glorious. But it’s not all just gory scares. There’s some sequences more rooted in the crime-thriller action sub-genre, a little bit of the more subtle atmospheric horror and a tad of psychological real-world horror. There’s this crazy combination of styles that ensures there’s really something in here for every horror fans.

Amongst the chaos and horror-heavy focus of the first act, it still manages to set up its characters really well and is clearly focused on leading towards a specific end goal. When it comes to James Wan, one thing is for certain – absolutely nothing is accidental. Every minuscule detail from the opening scene and onwards is designed to service the plot in some way – with many details not fulfilling their role until much later in the film. I was just astounded by the inventive nature of this film. Nothing about it feels wholly familiar – from the story to the scares, and even some of the way it’s shot, somehow James Wan still manages to find new and inventive ways to present horror and propel the genre even further.

When it comes to the narrative, the thing I love most about it is that it takes risks. Through a variety of memorable and incredibly well-executed twists, James Wan, Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper have crafted a story that is intriguing, terrifying and mysterious right to the end. It’s fresh, original and goes in some creative directions that I certainly didn’t see coming, but are clearly foreshadowed throughout. At the centre of the narrative is Madison, a sympathetic protagonist who is a great vessel for guiding us through this story. It even presents itself as a bit of a character study, although perhaps not as deep as other specifically-engineered character studies.

Annabelle Wallis shines in the lead role, really displaying this sense of vulnerability and the terror her character is experiencing in every waking hour extremely well. The film rests on the shoulders of her performance, and there’s not a single scene in which she fails to nail her deliver. No one else really stands out in the film, besides perhaps Maddie Hasson, who does pop in for quite a few scenes as Madison’s sister. The two do have a couple of scenes in which the strength of their bond is on show. Unfortunately, I believe the only real downside to the film is in regards to the two detective characters played by George Young and Michole Briana White. There’s nothing bad about their performances per se, just that the characters themselves didn’t seem like they fit. There’s some moments that their presence works, then there’s others I got the feeling they were a little too cliche or cheesy. Nonetheless, they don’t have much of a negative impact in the grand scheme of things.

In the end, Malignant is yet another horror-filled work of art from the incredible mind of horror visionary James Wan. In a combination of gore-filled violence and atmospheric chills, this film offers layers of thrills spread throughout. In a fantastic change of pace, it kicks things off immediately and doesn’t stop moving until the credits start rolling. The horror is backed by an immensely intriguing story that’s filled with mystery, crime, thrills and twists that you’ll be thinking about long after the movie ends. Perfect for fans of James Wan, and fans of horror in general, Malignant is an absolute must-watch.

8.8/10

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