Love it or hate it, Malignant is going to be one of the most talked about movies of the year; whether you went to the register asking for your money back or for more popcorn because you threw yours in the air from joy, James Wan has delivered an experience that is going to standout from others in 2021. Since this is my blog, I am going to talk about my experience, which was that I loved this movie; I loved the camp, the stupidity, the weirdness, the ‘stream of conscious’ style of pacing and directing, the performances, every aspect of it I loved. I get why this movie has split reactions and I get why some are annoyed by it, but when making something intentionally weird, that wants to pride itself as being something new and interesting, you can’t have it any other way.
Malignant is written (with writing credits given to Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper) and directed by James Wan, known for creating the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious franchises, as well as directing and writing a bunch of stuff like Fast & Furious 7 and Aquaman. It stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison, a woman who starts having horrific visions of murders that end up being real crimes; also starring are Maddie Hasson, George Young, and Michole Briana White. James Wan himself has described this movie as an homage to movies you would have discovered in the back of a video store, hidden away and forgotten; its shlocky, campy, cheesy, and gory as any of those movies, but with the budget and techniques of a modern horror movie. That is why I’m not going to talk about any aspect of the story here, besides ambiguous remarks on the quality; its also why, before I get into the movie, I have to address the “intentions” conversation this movie sparked. A lot of the discussion has been about whether the movie is intentionally weird, funny, and insane, or whether it’s someone covering their tracks if the movie backfires so badly it becomes a laughing stock – kind of like what Tommy Wiseau did when The Room first premiered. My take is I don’t care; if I had fun during the movie then I don’t care if it intended to or not. I do believe Wan intended for this level of ridiculousness and insanity, but that is due to the movie itself and not what he said; even if I felt he didn’t intend to do this, I still had a blast with it and would recommend it.
Malignant is a movie that I never thought I would see from a major studio and from an established director; its crazy and can easily lead many viewers to walk out. That excites me; the fact that movies like this get greenlit in an age where franchises and sequels of known-quantity are king, a weird and hard-to-market movie being made gives me hope that more experiences like this can be created and find funding. It was clearly created by a passionate and excited team, wanting to offer something different to horror fans; it’s got the slick trappings of Wan movies, but it encompasses so much more as well. It’s gory, it’s funny, it’s confusing, has a few good scares, it’s campy, and it even has a few great action set-pieces as well. It wants the audience confused, guessing the big twist, but it also wants you relaxed, casually stuffing pop-corn in your face and enjoying the experience. Visually, Wan directs the heck out of this movie; from the creepy opening act, to the weird stuff that follows and the multiple ideas he throws at you to engage and entertain you, nothing about the way this movie looks or feels irked me; my only complaint is that the movie’s music could have been more inspired than what we got, but it does its job. The performances are also really fun; Annabelle Wallis does a good job as the lead, but George Young and Michole Briana White (in particular), steal the show. I loved their attitude and their choices as actors to bring these two detectives to life in a way that stroke that brilliant balance of the filmmakers not making fun of what they do (despite the campy and ridiculous nature of it), but respecting their work and having fun doing it, so the audience is also primed to follow; you can tell it was fun to work on this movie and it makes it easier to shut off your brain and let the experience guide you. Their characters, and in general all characters in the movie, are not that well written or well-rounded; in fact, the most apt description would be one-dimensional, but I consider that part of the charm of b-movies. If it had great characters, it would be a better movie but not a good homage to campy, b-movie shlock.
The twist will be the biggest contention point for people and its for good reasons. Firstly, most of this movie feels like set up to that and that won’t pay off for all; more importantly, it’s a crazy twist that asks you to suspend your disbelief HARD. I get that people may expect something else from a horror movie, but I liked its imagination and wacky ideas. To me, the first half didn’t feel like a set up for the twist, because I was enjoying it so much; I wasn’t waiting for things to make sense or for the mic to drop, I was just laughing with my buddy, reacting to the movie, and having fun. The pacing helped a lot to achieve this; rarely does a scene go by without something weird or fun or campy or gory or scary or exciting happening. The same goes with the twist and the chaos that ensues; does it make sense? Probably not, but I’m not gonna look it up and I fell for it, so it works! It got the reaction it intended out of me and it led to some of the most entertaining moments in the movie, so I was excited with it; it makes sense in the movie (for the most part, I can’t account for every detail) and it was a brilliantly fun reveal, so I’m happy.
Malignant is a movie that will have people who love it without any caveats and people who cannot stand it, and that’s fine; that is part of why I like it so much. You can’t reach for this level of crazy and weird without having a lot of people dislike it, otherwise you’ve not aimed that high to begin with. It’s just one of those movies that I want to see again (to have that second viewing experience with the knowledge of the twist) just to have another entertaining night at the movies or at home with a couple of pals and a few beers. I do hope it finds its audience and that studios see that movies like these should exist, even if they won’t be everyone’s favorite movie of that year. It feels like a cult movie that most people appreciate it already and I’m glad that I’m one of them.