Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 51 minutes, Director – James Wan
After having survived multiple successive traumas, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins to delve into her unfamiliar past for answers to a series of grisly murders that aren’t just happening in her dreams.
As various characters over the course of James Wan’s latest directorial outing (with a screenplay by Akela Cooper), Malignant, battle against the mysterious, shadowy antagonist of the piece there’s an almost video game quality to the action. It’s boosted by a narrative that slightly changes from scene to scene – sometimes leaning more towards mystery or action than the grisly horror that the murders that lead to these other tones demonstrate. While it doesn’t feel as if we’re seeing any side-quests or missions there is the feeling of a slightly different film and tone being introduced when a new key piece of information is revealed in the story – and there are plenty of reveals throughout the almost two hour course of the piece.
For the most part we follow Madison (Annabelle Wallis). Having suffered multiple successive traumas, including miscarriages and an abusive relationship, she finds herself tormented by a new ghostly figure. Paralysed in the middle of the night and forced to witness gruesome murders what she initially believes to be a harsh nightmare is quickly revealed to be reality. It’s unexplained how she’s able to view these murders, her home transforming into whatever room in another location the death occurs in, however the answer may lie in her strange and unfamiliar past. Admittedly, a number of these elements come in somewhat later into the film – at least this feels to be the case – and it adds to the busy feeling nature of the piece overall. While there are plenty of good scenes and elements throughout – including some engagingly stylish camerawork from Wan – things don’t always properly gel together.
The horror certainly works. The increasingly bloody murders undeniably strike a fearful chord; including some particularly well-executed body horror in the consistently twisting third act. It makes up for the cheesy dialogue that sometimes enters such scenes, some of which is spoken right before a cut. Whether such dialogue is meant to be received in a somewhat ironic eye-rolling way is uncertain, but with the dark tone that’s set-up throughout the rest of the film it seems perhaps to not be the case. What it pairs up better with is the more uneven elements of the film that slightly stagger to the next scene as things progress towards the big final showdown – which potentially comes after a showdown with a bigger response and more spectacle.
There’s a slight mixture within Malignant. The horror works well, and the mystery manages to take it some way, however not everything manages to gel together properly. The fear factor is gradually lost as the plot comes more into play, or rather expands and gains more detail. Things begin to almost collide and run over each other creating a group of loosely fitting layers; some connecting better than others. As the plot grows things come a bit more off the rails and despite some good scenes and ideas it’s not quite enough to stop things from gradually beginning to slow down and stagger as the ending nears.
James Wan’s latest horror outing has plenty of effective darkness and gore, however sometimes its mystery and action elements can overpower and create a mixture that doesn’t always sit entirely well together.