The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - MALIGNANT | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - MALIGNANT

New to Prime Video - MALIGNANT
A woman has visions of a series of killings that seem to be linked to her mysterious past.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: James Wan

Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel, Ingrid Bisu

malignant poster

Until recently, Australian horror filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell worked as an inseparable duo, scoring hits with franchise spinners Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. Was the duo set to direct a Venom movie at some point? I ask this because with Upgrade and now Malignant, both Whannell and Wan have given us their own spins on the Venom concept.

Venom itself is basically a superhero riff on the Steve Martin comedy All of Me, with a parasite living inside a hapless hero, thus giving him super powers whenever it takes control of his body. With the Michael Crichton-esque Upgrade, Whannell gave this idea a sci-fi spin with a sentient micro-chip controlling its human host. With Malignant, Wan takes a similar premise into the realm of body-horror.

malignant review

Malignant opens with a flashback to the '90s where some sort of super-powered entity named Gabriel has run riot at a research hospital (on a suitably thundery night, no less), leaving his cell littered with the corpses of staff and security.

Cut to the present day where we meet Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant nurse with a cartoonishly evil boyfriend who smashes her head against the wall in one of his regular bouts of domestic violence. You'll spend a lot of the movie asking yourself why Wallis is wearing such an obvious wig, but believe me, when the explanation comes it's a doozy.

malignant review

That night while Madison is asleep, her boyfriend is butchered by some shadowy figure. Investigating detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and his stereotypically sassy black female partner Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) suspect Madison, but can't find any evidence to charge her for the crime. Meanwhile, Madison begins having disturbingly real visions of murders, which turn out to be premonitions of actual killings. Could it be connected to her mysterious childhood, having been adopted at age eight with no memory of her life before that? Lucky for Madison, her mother has a series of video tapes that will helpfully explain the plot.

After making Warner Bros. several truckloads of cash with his three aforementioned horror franchises, not to mention Aquaman and a Fast & Furious entry, it's no surprise that Wan has been gifted a healthy budget and creative carte blanche here. But Wan has been given so much rope that he's hung himself. Of all genres, horror is the one that thrives the most from low budgets that force filmmakers to get creative with limited resources. Wan has so much money to work with here that he injects gimmicky CGI visuals simply to eat up the budget. Malignant is a love letter to schlock, but it's made with a budget almost as large as the White House's McDonalds bill during the Trump reign.

malignant review

Wan clearly loves horror, but aside from that first Saw movie, which is more of a thriller in truth, I've yet to see him demonstrate the ability to transfer that affection into a cohesive horror movie of his own. Malignant feels like it's been influenced by every horror movie of the past 50 years. There's a plotline straight out of Basket Case. There's a Ninja-like villainous demon that wouldn't be out of place in the recent new wave of Indonesian horror. Early scenes of Madison going crazy recall the Beyond the Door series. Her premonitions hark back to Lucio Fulci's The Psychic. De Palma's Sisters and Raising Cain are a clear influence, as is Cronenberg's Dead Ringers. A scene in the Seattle underground recalls the Kolchak TV movie The Night Strangler. One shot even seems to nod to his buddy Whannell's recent take on The Invisible Man. But while Malignant keeps reminding you of other genre movies, it never gets you invested in its own half-baked hijinks.

That is until about 90 minutes in when Wan basically says "Fuck it" and admits that he's remaking Basket Case via Venom. The movie offers a twist that's so ludicrous I simply had to applaud it. For its final 20 minutes, Malignant is a blast, the sort of gloriously misjudged, self-indulgent filmmaking you only get when a studio owes a filmmaker as much as Warner Bros owes Wan. Getting through those sluggish first 90 minutes is quite the task though.

Malignant is on Netflix UK/ROI now.