The film has a fairly clever and original premise — one that’s better left unspoiled as a third act reveal. But the path to it is bizarre and beguiling with too many moments that feel like an episode of “CSI” or “Without a Trace” with much better cinematography and worse dialogue. It kind of makes you wonder what the hell Wan was doing here.
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It’s hard to say whether a film this bonkers “works” or not, but it’s impossible not to admire both the craft and the extravagant bad taste behind its go-for-broke energy.
If only they’d put fuller faith in the true nature of their premise, and leaned all the way into the kookier side of body horror. Instead of trying for the sophistication of Cronenberg and coming up short, they’d be better off embracing the near-absurdity of lower-rent cult objects like Basket Case from the start.
The lack of true scares may be a deal-breaker for some. And indeed, the overall outlandishness at work on the screen is going to flat-out annoy certain viewers. But then there will be those who revel in the audacity of Malignant, and boy oh boy are those folks in for a treat. This isn't even close to being James Wan's best horror movie, but cripes, it sure is a lot of fun.
The film might have been outrageously bizarre fun if it displayed any humor or ironic self-consciousness, but everything is played so straight that viewers will find themselves laughing not with the film but at it. The characterizations are paper-thin, the dialogue is perfunctory, and the performances are, to put it charitably, adequate at best.
There’s a hodge-podge of ideas going on that don’t always seamlessly fit, but Wan’s homage to ’80s horror and Wallis’s fretful performance, has a bloody lot of guts.
A humorless melodrama about a woman haunted by her past, Malignant sits somewhere between a slasher, a ghost story, and a possession flick, never fully embracing either. The result is a confusing melange of genre archetypes that lacks a clear point of view, even a surface-level stylistic one.
Malignant at least has originality going for it. It’s also a thanklessly humorless and offensively sadistic film that fails to capture any sort of authentic emotion or make any meaningful statements about trauma.
If you can hang with the slow gestation of the first hour or so of Malignant, the final third may grow on you.
Malignant might not hold up to scrutiny but by the time all its mysteries are revealed, it’s clear that it was never supposed to. It’s an absurdly entertaining frightfest with a heavy emphasis on the absurd, and thank heaven — or hell — for it.