Any time James Wan is involved in with a movie under Atomic Monster Productions, the hype for the film is real. And for fans of his films (like myself), 2021 is a strong year because this summer we got The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It which Wan had helped write the story for, and this past weekend we got a film written and directed by the infamous horror director, MALIGNANT. In talking with people the last few weeks leading up to this weekend, it seemed like less people knew about this movie than I expected - I'm not sure if that's because of lack of promotion or because the movie is not a Conjuring universe film. Whatever the reason is irrelevant I suppose, because the film got a direct-to-demand viewing through HBO Max as well as its release in theaters, and it seems like the internet is in a lowkey buzz about the absurd ending that comes with the eerie storyline. I couldn't wait any longer to see just what the hell is going on with Malignant, so we checked it out and let me just preface this by saying this, this movie is a wild one. Most of Wan's films, I think we can all agree, have been jumpscare heavy while also maintaining a very, very particular look - and while Malignant relies less on jumpscares and more on mind-bending visuals, there are zero doubts what you're watching is a film from James Wan. It's funny because once the film got going, my girlfriend flat out said something along the lines of "Even if his name wasn't included five times in the intro, you'd still know it's a James Wan film by the look of it" and I simply couldn't agree more. And while the film looks fucking stunning, looks aren't everything, so let's figure out if Malignant's story is worth your time this spooky season! (Readers beware: this review contains light spoilers of the film, so please continue with caution!)
Malignant follows the story of a pregnant woman named Madison who comes home from work early to her abusive husband, who rages and slams her head against the wall. What unfolds next is an absolute mindfuck for Madison as she begins to see murders taking place - except, the murders could be taking place miles and miles away. Madison begins to experience these intense and bizarre "visions" where she would be standing somewhere - let's say her own bedroom, for example - and in a quick moment, everything around here seems to melt away and unveil a completely different location where murders are taking place. The visions Madison are having of people getting killed aren't visions; they are murders that are actually happening in real life. As Madison tries to work with police to figure out who the killer is, why she's having these visions and to prove she's not totally insane, memories of her former self come to light that tell a very different, sinister tale than that of a sweet, put together woman - memories that include her "imaginary friend" Gabriel. As memories of Gabriel begin to come back to Madison - who successfully managed to block them out since she was adopted at age nine - viewers are left wondering... just how much of Gabriel is imaginary?! Find out in... MALIGNANT!
What I think is great about Malignant is that up until a certain point, it sincerely keeps you guessing as to what's going on. The movie gives you just enough to kinda put a couple pieces together, but not enough that you have the full puzzle. Then - just as you think you have just one piece missing - Malignant throws one of the most insanely absurd, over-the-top and borderline silly twists that will make you throw the puzzle across the room. It's an outrageous turn that audiences will absolutely not see coming, and ya know what, I think that's a huge part of the fun in this film, because up until that point the film is just a fun thriller with some pretty intense visuals and some cool cop scenes. But Malignant has much more hidden beneath the surface for audiences as the film progresses, and it's such an insane what the fuck moment that I really wish we had seen the film in theaters just to gauge the audiences reaction to the madness taking place. But with that ending aside, Malignant really does have a lot going for it; the scenes where young Madison is doing something like standing over a cake with a knife, and suddenly having the walls around her melt away to reveal she's standing over her mother's pregnant stomach, still wielding the knife, are super intense and will leave you shook. These wicked visions brought upon by her imaginary friend Gabriel are taking a serious toll on Madison, and having the visions return to her so much later in life are totally fucking with her, especially since now she's witnessing actual murders, like the one of her own husband! I couldn't possibly love the way Wan had these types of scenes done any more; I think they are visually stunning and do an excellent job twisting reality, making you question exactly what is going on.
In an attempt to not give too much away about where the story of Malignant goes, allow me to just say this: the second half of the movie is Gabriel's time to shine as he comes "to life" and Madison finally gets the opportunity to confront her "imaginary friend." These scenes are intense, full of action and mystery, and make for some really awesome shots. Malignant has no shortage of gore; pretty much from the get-go, there's blood, there's death, and there's shockingly brutal kills that aren't hidden behind camera cutaways. The murders are wicked and sinister, and for the most part, the film shows it all which will definitely satisfy some of us that can't get enough of that stuff in horrors. And as Gabriel "comes to life" the scenes get more bloody, more evil, and more fierce. These scenes will definitely stick with a lot of people after the credits roll - maybe not as much as the fucking mental twist in the film - and will leave Gabriel a favorite villain for many this year. While the ending of the film is awesome itself, the smaller pieces of the puzzle that make up Malignant all just come together and make for a fun watch. Whether you think the ending is awesomely awful or awfully awesome is one thing, but there's really just a lot of excellent scenes and visuals to keep you more than interested, and one cannot deny the creativity that went into this. While I don't see Malignant being a film I watch every Halloween season, I honestly have to suggest the fuck out of it. I think it' weird, I think it's ridiculous and even laughable, and I think it makes for a great cinematic experience to watch with a loved one or friend; I honestly think any horror fan would get a kick out of it, and in the end, isn't that what this whole genre is about? So I gotta say... check it out!!!