James Wan has been the mind behind some of the biggest and most successful horror franchises of the modern era, including Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. I’ve always found him capable of striking a good balance between patient and effective suspense and conventional horror movie techniques. While not every film of his is a hit, you can definitely see his creativity and inventiveness shine through. Malignant is such a case; packed with inventive ideas and stylish execution. Unfortunately, the film is held back by a surprising lack of quality in its storytelling, a shocking revelation knowing of Wan’s length of tenure in the horror genre.
The acting and writing in the film borders on soap-opera quality, with over-exaggerated performances and embarrassing deliveries. Its a bit too campy to a fault, as it doesn’t come off as tongue and cheek as writing like this would in the modern era. It really felt like first draft writing that was left as a placeholder that never really got changed. Not to mention a lot of the writing is accentuated by music cues straight out of a mid-day soap opera on a channel you’ve never heard of. Annabelle Wallis ticks the scream queen box, but her and the rest of the cast struggle to work with dialogue they’ve been given, making these serious situations unintentionally hilarious. Most of the film also lacks decent scares, even skimping on some of the jump scares Wan is known for.
Aside from some cool visuals and creative camera work, the film remained fairly un-engaging until the last 15 minutes, where the film goes so balls-to-the-wall bonkers that it honestly redeemed the movie for me. The film shifts from a paranormal mystery into a horror-core Matrix movie, with some genuinely cool kill sequences, a metal AF soundtrack and allowing the film’s monster to be seen on full display. I honestly forgot this movie was Rated-R up until then, as the violence really ramps up to intense levels. The creature design is genuinely unnerving in appearance and mannerisms, as well as sporting a rare personality that makes him more of a character than a simple force of nature. These final minutes make the whole experience somewhat worth it, as the story comes together nicely even if its a bit scatterbrained.
Overall I can’t help but be disappointed in the film despite these flashes of enjoyment. As a whole, its interesting story and visuals are held back by what feels like amateurish story-telling and unexperienced acting. Its campiness makes it a prime target for a laid-back nights with friends, but for those looking to be genuinely scared, you’re better off revisiting Wan’s past work.