- Horror | R |
- In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max
By Reed Ripley
Sometimes film is a wonderful piece of art, meticulously crafted to convey a particular point of view or share something beautiful. And other times, it’s an excuse to put something absolutely bonkers on the big screen. Malignant counts itself among the latter.
In the film, Annabelle Wallis portrays Madison Mitchell, a woman in an abusive marriage who begins the story pregnant and hopeful to carry a child to term after a series of miscarriages. After a particularly violent night at home, Madison has vivid dreams of gruesome murders.
To her horror, these dreams reflect reality. As the dreams continue, her connection to the monster perpetrating the carnage grows, and she sinks deeper into despair and long-buried trauma.
James Wan’s deep understanding of the genre is clear, and he attempts to put new twists on classic fears with mixed results. First is fear of the dark; the film’s monster has the power to control electricity, and when it nears its victim, the lights go out. It’s on-the-nose, and horror fans may gripe the flickering lights are a dead giveaway for imminent scares. More effective is the use of sleep paralysis.
When Madison slips into one of her waking dreams, she freezes outside of an ability to scream on deaf ears. It’s a curious twist, as her fear stems not from her own vulnerability, but from the dread of helplessly witnessing yet another murder.
There is no way to talk about this film without highlighting its insane twist and accompanying final third act. The big reveal is horrifying and memorable enough, but where the film truly delves into unique territory is afterward, when it becomes an action-packed sprint to the end. Describing it as wild is not adequate.
The film is not without deeper substance, recognizing how childhood trauma can stay buried for years before triggering an event. The story centers on Madison’s coming to terms with her trauma, along with the companion theme of a trauma survivor’s struggle to make others understand or at least listen to what she’s going through.
Malignant is a big swing for Wan, shepherd of horror franchises like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. He tries to do something new and exciting, and it mostly works. While not the genre-busting film he likely intended, it’s a fun romp worth a watch, if only to see something truly wild and unique.