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Blu-ray Review: Malignant

December 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

After switching gears and directing the comic book movie Aquaman, Warner Bros. has allowed James Wan to return to his low-budget horror movie roots with Malignant, an absolutely gnarly little film that I’m honestly impressed the studio even agreed to put out.

Wan, who has kickstarted no less than three wildly successful horror franchises (Saw, Insidious and Warner’s The Conjuring), clearly holds a lot of sway at WB and New Line Cinema, because Malignant is the sort of thing that could only get made by a filmmaker who has major clout with the studio.

It’s one of the wildest big studio horror films in recent memory, taking us on a batshit crazy B-movie ride that is simultaneously really fun and really messed up. The film opens in the 1990s, with a creepy prologue at a medical facility showing some sort of experiment gone horribly wrong. From here we cut to present day and start following Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant Seattle woman in an abusive relationship who starts seeing visions of grisly murders as they are taking place, with her literally becoming paralyzed as the room dissolves around her.

With support from her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), and a tag team pair of detectives (George Young and Michole Briana White), Madison must work to stop this shadowy killer before the crimes consume her. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because what’s fun about Malignant is the way that it twists and turns, as Wan blends elements of horror movie, family melodrama, police procedural and serial killer thriller.

The screenplay, which was written by Akela Cooper with the original story credited to Cooper, Wan and Wan’s partner Ingrid Bisu (who also has a small role in the film as an overeager forensic investigator), unfolds like a mystery and does a good job of teasing out pieces of information, building to a shocking (and gross) reveal that really sets the film apart.

In many ways, Malignant harkens back to the sordid slasher flicks of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s (complete with a backstory that is revealed through old VHS tapes), but it’s a throwback that feels fresh. The film blends the aesthetic of B-movie schlock with elements of tongue-in-cheek camp, but it’s all crafted with considerable skill. This includes the moody cinematography by Michael Burgess, which also allows for some showy camera moves. In one sequence, the camera takes us through Madison’s house from above, floating between rooms as if we are looking into a diorama with the roof taken off.

The film later outdoes itself with a thrilling chase through the Seattle Underground, and a climactic action sequence that is staged with the camera literally spinning around like in a first-person shooter game. It’s topped off with solid production design, some good uses of makeup and practical effects, and an unnerving score by Joseph Bishara that cleverly incorporates elements of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind.” And, at the centre of it all, is Wallis, who fully commits herself to the demands of the lead role.

This is Wan simply flexing his genre muscles and showing off his considerable skills at keeping audiences surprised, excited and disgusted in equal measure. You could certainly become focused on plot holes or implausibility, but it’s more fun to just enjoy the fully deranged ride that is Malignant, as Wan plays us like a fiddle with jump scares, action set-pieces, insane twists and creative kills that are presented with lots of gore and squishy, bone-crunching sound effects.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes one bonus featurette. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which comes with a slipcover.

Malignant: James Wan’s Visions (14 minutes, 11 seconds): A solid look at various behind the scenes aspects of the film, from the writing and story to the very good practical effects. We also get a glimpse at what it took to pull off that spinning set-piece, with the camera placed on a pre-programmed robotic arm and the stunt doubles needing to hit their marks precisely so as not to get hit.

Malignant is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 111 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: November 30th, 2021

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