This review contains spoilers, so if you haven’t watched Malignant, then come back to this when you have. I don’t want to ruin the third act for you. It deserves to be see spoiler free.
I had no idea what to expect of this film. The trailer made it look like your standard haunted house horror, but that is obviously a failure of the marketing team because Malignant is so much more than that. James Wan really nailed this one on so many levels.
Annabelle Wallis plays Madison, a pregnant woman in an abusive relationship. After her husband knocks her head violently against the wall, she begins to apparitions of a dark figure. Soon, her husband is horrifically murdered and she is injured in the attack. Her baby didn’t survive and her estranged sister shows up to give her support.
Meanwhile, the cops suspect that Madison actually killed her husband. Other victims come up dead in equally violent ways and Madison admits to them that she watched their deaths through someone else’s eyes. The police think she is a total nutter until she leads them to the location of another victim. Madison’s sister goes on her own investigative tour of the hospital Madison grew up in and finds a treasure trove of video tapes that somehow didn’t get tossed or locked away after Madison was adopted.
This is when the movie veers off into a completely different realm of horror. It is no longer a haunting. Its a little bit mad scientist and creature feature. Madison was adopted from a medical facility as a child. The doctor charged with Madison’s care had to cut out her twin, one that she had absorbed before her birth. And the twin was named Gabriel, and was supremely evil. The catch, though, is that the doctor couldn’t cut all of the twin out without killing Madison. So, Gabriel’s brain was still attached to Madison’s, and when the abusive husband gave her a knock on the head, it awakened the evil within Madison’s own head.
I won’t spoil the rest, for it is truly a brilliant, gory beast to behold. Malignant is a throwback to films like the House on Haunted Hill remake and Ghost Ship. The Dark Horse horror films from the early 2000s that were intentionally, and sometimes unintentionally, funny in their own horrific ways. There was always camp associated with those films. Malignant is no different, and James Wan really just goes for it.
I could make metaphors for how abuse leads to horrific trauma and, if someone doesn’t get the help they require, can really turn down a dark path. In a way, that is how this film works. Gabriel represents the PTSD of being abused and losing several babies to miscarriage. It could really be said, if it weren’t for the fact that it was Gabriel feeding off of the fetus’ and killing them, but that is one of the many ways the film zigs just when you think it’s going to zag.
I have to talk about the wigs. Both Annabelle Wallis and McKenna Grace (the actress who played young Madison) are both blondes. They wear heavy black wigs with blunt bangs throughout this film. A style choice I wouldn’t have gone with, but somehow it works and only adds to the camp. Adds another level of “what is really going on here”.
The third act is a gory, bloody, violent crescendo. The body count is high and no one seems to be able to kill the killer. When Madison becomes Gabriel, the effect is Raimi-esque. Funny, ridiculous, and completely bonkers. You can’t turn away. You’re shaking your head because you know you should think it’s nuts, and you don’t care. Even when Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill, and she was in a couple other Tarantino films) randomly appears for a few short minutes to harass Madison in jail only to get unceremoniously gutted when Gabriel takes over, you are still there for it. Wondering how James Wan could possibly top it.
If you are looking for The Conjuring in this film, look elsewhere. Malignant is a whole different beast. A gamechanger. Much like Scream did for the slasher, and Evil Dead did back in ’81, Malignant will bring on a whole new generation of campy horror films. None of them will compare to it, of course, but Malignant is here to stay. I’m part of its cult following and was from the very first uttering of “We need to cut the cancer out”.
Watch it if you haven’t already. You’ll laugh. You’ll jump, because there are a lot of over the top jump scares. You’ll wonder what you just watched, and then you’ll want to watch it again. And you’ll start making comparisons to Voldemort living on the back of Professor Quirrel’s head in Sorcerer’s Stone, and you’ll love the film even more for it.
Malignant is currently on HBO MAX and playing in theaters.