Our mind is a complex machine, one we can take for granted. Sometimes, the greater details are lost, buried deeps in the perpetually expanding archives. Other times it is conjuring up strange new worlds that we could almost live in. From the mundane to the theoretical, there is not a lot it cannot accomplish. In 2021, a horror film broke the internet with the discussion of its polarising merits. A film that dealt with memory, the mind, and potential prophecies of murder and vengeance, a film called Malignant.
We learn of a violent and extraordinarily powerful patient, Gabriel, who is locked away in an institution, causing great concern for the staff. Meanwhile, in the present day, we learn of Madison, who lives in Seattle, with her abusive partner, that is until one day he ends up brutally murdered. To make matters worse, Madison starts seeing strange visions, of random people being senselessly murdered by this mysterious being. Is this Gabriel back from the dead? Can Madison stop the killing, or at least get to the bottom of why they’re being mentally telegraphed to her? In a race against time, Madison will soon come to grips that her greatest fears may be all in her mind.
The film works best when it embraces its pulp-like sensibilities fully, especially towards the end once all the puzzle pieces are in place. The idea is novel, I will give you that, and the execution does deserve a lot of praise (no pun intended). The effects are memorable, from Madison’s visions of the murders to coming face-to-face with Gabriel himself. Building into a spectacular crescendo for the final act, brimming with flashy action sequences and creepy ideas, combine hand-in-hand. Gabriel himself is certainly a memorable foe with his design and movements. Without giving too much away, it seems like a lot of effort has been put into making him menacing, with a concept that feels like it could have leapt straight from the depths of imagination, or nightmare.
Much like Aquaslash, it takes a little while for the film to get going, so much so, you might be watching the first hour-and-a-half, questing the acclaim that such a film would earn. However, those who do manage to persevere will be greatly rewarded. It makes sense as James Wan has a pedigree in horror, one that Malignant bucks Wan’s streak, instead focusing on a different approach from the highly bankable, ‘creepy doll attacks market’. There are clear influences from the Italian horror scene, with its vibrant lighting and all around and graphic stabbings that do a lot to put the audience in mind of Giallo films of the past, and their recent revival.
Malignant is a surprisingly polarising film, one that takes no prisoners as feels bold in his widely encompassing new direction. It takes, every opportunity, it needs to build itself up into an over-the-top, yet encouraging display, one that feels like a learned neophyte of the horror masters that have come before. When Malignant reveals its true form, you’ll either love it or hate it, but it will certainly be one that will stick in your mind for quite some time.
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