The latest horror film, “The Nun,” is spooky, but not scary enough to be called horror.
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When it comes to the horror genre, it’s no surprise that a picture from filmmaker James Wan raises some eyebrows. With 2013’s The Conjuring, which launched a full-fledged multi-movie series, the filmmaker cemented his name with films like Saw and Insidious, and even totally altered the effect horror has on mainstream audiences. Now, after directing Warner Bros.’ blockbuster Aquaman, Wan returns to the horror genre with the new, original film Malignant, and while it’s a welcome return that boasts both some impressive practical effects and a genuinely thought-provoking premise that will excite horror connoisseurs – particularly fans of back-of-the-shelf ’90s horror – Malignant fumbles its overall execution.
Madison (Annabelle Wallis) has her life turned upside down when she and her husband are assaulted in their house and she starts experiencing terrifying images of gruesome killings, which she quickly learns aren’t just visions. These killings are genuine, and it’s as if she’s seeing them through the eyes of the perpetrator. As the police investigate not just Madison’s assault but also these killings, it becomes apparent to Madison and her sister (Maddie Hasson) that something much more sinister is at work.
Wan keeps viewers wondering about what that “something much worse” is right from the outset. The film’s beginning implies the presence of something otherworldly, such as aliens or a failed experiment, and as the spectator progresses through the narrative, additional possibilities emerge. Is it a paranormal tale? Are you a serial killer? All of the aforementioned? The mystery develops with the police investigation, which adds an intriguing layer to the picture. Unfortunately, although it takes the characters the whole of the film to figure things out, it becomes clear pretty soon who is to blame for both torturing Madison and the killings.
While solving the riddle of a horror film may be entertaining, the issue here is that there isn’t much to offer in terms of shocks if you solve things early on. Except for a few early scenes that set the heart racing, audiences expecting to be scared by this picture are unlikely to be so. Malignant is nearly entirely dependent on its mystery to carry it, but the narrative isn’t up to the task. Neither are the performances, with the exception of Wallis’, who effortlessly shifts between fear and resolve. The sister connection between Wallis and Hasson is likewise well-done, to the point that one wonders how much better the picture would be if the police narrative and the annoying love undercurrent between the sister and one of the cops were removed completely.
While the narrative itself falls apart at times, the film’s third act action makes up for a lot of the film’s flaws. The full ridiculousness of it all comes together in what Wan himself has called a blender of genres, and that might be the most accurate way of describing it. It’s dominated by high-energy, frenetic, violent action sequences, and the full ridiculousness of it all comes together in what Wan himself has called a blender of genres, and that might be the most accurate way of describing it. It’s hardly cinematic art, but it’s a lot of fun when all the parts come together, and it’s downright ambitious, with lots of references to straight-to-video horror films from the 1990s. Seeing some performers go full action star with energetic and frequently gory combat scenes nearly makes up for the muddled metaphors and hanging subplots that extend the film’s run length by approximately 15 minutes.
Malignant is a departure from Wan’s prior work in a manner that is both intriguing and frustrating. While there are some great graphics and really exciting action scenes, a poorer narrative and predictable, albeit dubious, plot twists undercut the final result as a true love letter to the genre. The picture attempts to do a bit too much for a little too long without more strong scares and with the diversity of genres thrown in on top of the horror.
3.5 out of 5 stars
On September 10th, Malignant will be released in cinemas and streamed on HBO Max.
The malignant release date is a fresh, original horror with a few fumbles.
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