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MALIGNANT: James Wan’s Backwards Thriller

Malignant is bonkers. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing can only be effectively determined after a person watches it. This film has been widely received as anything from corny and strange to psychologically twisted. And the defense arguments of each have a viable standing. 

Personally, I found Malignant terrifying, gory, and intense. The action scenes were highlighted by the incredible blocking and off-putting performance that was only emphasized by the dynamic camerawork. With a third act twist that’s left audiences reeling, Malignant meets, “I saw that coming a mile away” and “[choice expletive of surprise]” exactly in the middle to create a unique brand of thrilling horror mystery.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) lives with her abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel). After a brutal blow, Madison is left with a head wound and locks herself in the bedroom. That night, a ghostly intruder attacks them both. After recovering in the hospital, Madison returns home to find herself being stalked by a dark, hooded figure. While home, Madison has visions of a doctor’s brutal murder, which is reported on by the news the following morning. She’s rightfully horrified, so when she witnesses a second murder, she reports it to the police. Despite their disbelief, the police investigate the alleged murder scene and find the corpse of yet another doctor. 

Madison begins to make connections to her past and the disfigured “Gabriel” but has no memories from before she was adopted at eight years old. Madison, her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), and the Seattle Police individually look for clues regarding Madison’s past as well as Gabriel’s, leading them to investigate a shuttered research hospital. As they do, Gabriel continues his rampage. Sydney drives to the foreboding and long-abandoned research hospital and recovers archived tapes from the basement. These tapes lead to stunning and terrifying revelations, which I’m not going to talk about because that would ruin the fun. The aforementioned revelations thrust the film into a whirlwind, action-packed act 3, concluded by a signature James Wan ending. 

Malignant is tense, bloody, and violent. The film is a clear combination of the thriller and slasher genres, with a strong supporting dose of horror as Gabriel carves his way through the story, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. The mystery is clear as it builds; who is Gabriel? And how can they stop him? Solving these mysteries is vital to stopping the rampage by the murderer, whose forensic sketch is compared to Sloth from The Goonies.

The horror elements are supported by the jump scares, and the terrifying research hospital. But, the only supernatural elements are the ones left unexplained by the revelation of Gabriel’s true nature. While a blanket explanation is given to translate how certain pieces of the story came to be, other elements are never addressed but are cornerstones to half of the scares in the film. 

The murderous Gabriel is a shining point in the film. While he’s not much of a talker, he certainly doesn’t need to be. Gabriel is played by two actors; physically by Marina Mazepa, with Ray Chase lending his voice to the role. Gabriel is certainly the “actions speak louder than words” type, but it’s not only his stalking silence that terrifies, it’s how he moves. While it’s difficult to place exactly what is wrong with his motion, it’s obviously not the way that normal people move. At one point, Gabriel weaves his way down the side of a fire escape like a slinky that’s just won the gymnastics all-around gold. His movements are stiff, yet swift and powerful, and effectively crafts him to be the backward monster that he is. The supporting camerawork is sometimes dynamic and strong, but other times is so fluid that it’s hard to focus on the action that is supposed to be the center point, because it looks like something popped the camera on a yo-yo and started to swing it around. 

Malignant is also, undeniably, directed by James Wan. Several of his touches are prominent and mimic his supernatural horror films, especially The Conjuring franchise. The most prevalent being how the film ends with some emotion. These heartfelt moments work well for movies like The Conjuring, but less well in this film, for one main reason — the kill count. In Wan’s other film franchises, like Insidious and The Conjuring, the stories are generally contained to a household or a family or two. But Malignant has a kill count in the THIRTIES. While it’s not required for endings to satisfy every loose end within a story, Malignant leaves the audience with a heartfelt moment that highlights the power of love despite the fact that Gabriel slaughtered so many. 

The consequences of that massacre because of how extreme it was—and the unique nature of Gabriel and Madison’s connection—feel like a valid piece of the story that is never addressed. And the absence is instantly noticed. It changes the initial reaction after the movie ends from an appreciation of love and strength to a “How many people did he just kill????”. The unsteady ending impression takes a lot away from what is overall, a well-done movie.

I liked Malignant. I liked that it has a scary “monster”, archival research in a scary abandoned hospital, and a twist that I incorrectly thought I saw coming a mile away. Certain scenes were gory enough that I looked away (disclaimer: I’m a chicken), but hey, great sound design for those fights! Although it wasn’t perfect, I’m looking forward to watching it again and enjoying the sound design over the admittedly really cool, bloody visuals of this mysterious thriller. 


This article was written by a guest contributor

Amanda Nicklas

Amanda started writing with video game reviews – every 12 year old boy’s dream! She has worked in TV development and children’s theater. She also writes and produces a podcast called Logdate. She finds a way to write about almost anything, and loves stories that inspire happiness and change.
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