Malignant (2021), now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, is the latest horror film directed by James Wan: the man responsible for greats like Saw (2004), Insidious (2010), and The Conjuring (2013). So … WHAT HAPPENED?!
On its surface, the premise is pretty simple: Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) has terrible visions of people being murdered – only to find out that they are actually happening. However, to execute that narrative, Malignant chooses a confusingly predictable path involving tropes like the “scary” adopted kid with a dark past and vanishing twin syndrome. That’s all I can really say about the plot without spoiling it … assuming you (miraculously) don’t see it coming from a mile away.
Not only is it a shame that the film relies on tropes, but it also does so in a tasteless way that prevents viewers from building any sort of connection with the characters. They themselves become stock figures, fitting in right along with the horror clichés – which would be fine if that’s what Malignant was trying to achieve, but it’s not, and it’s painful to watch. Suggestions of domestic abuse and infertility at the beginning of the movie (a perfect place to establish empathy) are tossed aside in favor of theatrics. And can we please retire the “you are going to adopt a demon child” narrative? It’s not doing anyone any favors – least of all the foster care system.
Furthermore, content is not the only issue Malignant unfortunately has. The acting is awful – all across the board. The timeline is all over the place without any visual cues. And there are moments where it’s in the present day but actually feels like the 1980s. Then there is the fact that, while the set design is beautiful, I don’t think the person in charge has ever seen an actual police station or what a detective generally wears. If you deleted everyone in the station but Kekoa Shaw (George Young), you’d think you were looking at a stylish, wealthy young man (pocket square and all!) at a bougie expensive restaurant (not to mention those bathrooms!).
Phew. So are there any redeeming qualities? Sadly, no. And I honestly don’t think I would have have finished it if I wasn’t reviewing it. That said, based on its current Rotten Tomatoes rating, I’m in the minority. So, take your chances, if you dare (or are really, really bored).
Not scary at all0.0/10
Stop with the tropes0.0/10
No animals died10.0/10
- Director: James Wan
- Writers: James Wan, Akela Cooper, Ingrid Bisu
- Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Nichole Brianna White
- Producers: Ingrid Bisu, Michael Clear, Jennifer Conroy, et al
- Musician: Joseph Bishara
- Cinematographer: Michael Burgess
- Film Editor: Kirk M. Morri
- Casting Agents: Anne McCarthy, Kellie Roy
- Production Designer: Desma Murphy
- Art Director: David Scott