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I’ve been away, if you hadn’t noticed. Full disclosure: I managed to get my first ever full-time job, and coupled with the fact that Perth didn’t get ANY new movies for a month, it’s been a while.
Beyond seeing special showings of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, both extraordinary experiences at Windsor Cinema, Malignant is my first outing for a new movie in a theatre since either a 2nd viewing of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or a 3rd viewing of The Suicide Squad. I cannot remember.
Regardless, Malignant is a resounding return to big-screen entertainment for this giddy horror fan. James Wan’s latest is his most ludicrous, bizarre, campy and maybe his most fun film to watch, and this is a director who made Aquaman.
I dare not even detail the plot synopsis of the film as knowing absolutely nothing at all was how I saw the film. That virginity made everything more exciting, baffling and darkly entertaining, so that experience is my biggest recommendation.
What should I say then?
Well, Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle, The Mummy) stars as Madison, a woman plagued by a malignant dark spirit or shadow of something evil, stalking her and murdering other people while Madison is helpless to watch via paralysing visions. She has no idea what this thing is, why it is killing people, why she can see the spirit’s actions so vividly, or why any of this is connected to her. She relies on her adoptive sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) for help in figuring out what is going on, but the truth is far more terrifying than either of them could imagine.
For better or worse, Malignant could only have been made by James Wan. I have seen and read many critics comparing Wan’s latest film to the works of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or Brian De Palma, and while the homages to gonzo horror twists and the giallo genre are certainly present, this story is right up Wan’s alley. The story credit goes to Wan and his wife Ingrid Bisu, with the screenplay going to Akela Cooper, and the result is something that feels like the culmination of so much of Wan’s developing skills as a filmmaker, such as his handling of camp with action and VFX as well as a few darker themes, but it is also the result of other wonderfully talented writers and filmmakers who made something wholly unique.
It’s about sisterhood and the truth of family, biological or adoptive. Madison and Sydney’s relationship is so well-established that their emotional climax is thoroughly believable, guided by Wallis’ and Hasson’s solid performances. Wan delivers the thrills of Malignant with directorial virtuosity, taking every chance he can to flip the production design on its head or work with cinematographer Michael Burgess to flip and spin and fly the camera in a hundred directions you never see coming. It’s a horror thrill ride that has more than its fair share of adrenaline-fueled action excitement.
Malignant may feel, for the first half at least, like something a bit average. Maybe this isn’t so great. People are certainly saying some weird lines. But give it a chance. I certainly did, and the result is one of the most entertainingly wild and dark horror films I’ve seen since Hereditary. When a horror movie is REALLY good and scary, I don’t cower. I face it with wide-eyed delight, witnessing filmmakers embracing the true insanity of the genre. Malignant is excellent horror made by top-of-their-game genre filmmakers and its existence is a beautiful thing. Thank you James Wan and the entire cast and crew.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Akela Cooper (from a story by James Wan & Ingrid Bisu and Cooper)
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young
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