Horror movie legend James Wan returns to the big screen with his newest thriller and crime drama. Leaving behind Ed and Lorraine Warren of “The Conjuring” and “Annabeth” series, Wan’s “Malignant” pushes him into a new universe with fresh characters, fears and horror experiences.
This time there are no haunted houses, cursed dolls or possessed children. There is just a woman, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who wants to have a baby to bond with, to pull together her abusive marriage. After an argument with her husband Derek (Jake Abels) over her two former miscarriages he slams her head into a wall, causing her previously conjoined evil twin known as Gabriel (Marina Mazepa) to awaken in the back of her head and gain the ability to possess her and kill without her knowledge.
As a fetus, Madison partially absorbed her twin. Now a parasite on the back of her head, it’s distorted face complete with flailing arms and an exposed ribcage looks like the baby from “Eraserhead” got put in a dehydrator. The twin looks unreal in the best way possible, with its flesh-clung body looking inhuman. Then again, it can barely be considered a human in the first place.
Much like Wan’s “The Conjuring” and ”Insidious,” viewers follow the main character around their house, looking into every dark shadowy corner thinking that you will be jumped scared. The house follows in Wan’s prior movies’ footsteps, set in a gothic, colonial style house with old cracked, cigarette stained walls. A house lit only by natural lighting brings out shadows that dance across the walls eerily. The jump scares and pop-ups infamous in Wan’s former movies are scarce in “Malignant,” replaced by much more gore.
Bloodshed is nothing new with Wan’s films. His directorial debut of the indie-turned-blockbuster film franchise of “Saw” never lacked in the gore department, often depicting disturbing torture scenes that have been described as “torture porn.” While “Malignant” does not present torture, it doesn’t lack blood either. With slasher-like killing sprees by an unknown person and a true crime element, “Malignant” resembles Italian cheap crime, murder mystery pulp novels called giallos that were turned into films from the 70s.
“Malignant” favors special effects over gritty camera quality. When Madison sees Gabriel’s brutal murders, the room seems to melt into the scene of the murder in a smooth transition without looking over-edited or fake. That is before a golden sword wielding madman who kills people with no mercy takes over the scene.
Watching Gabriel massacre people is not as scary as it sounds. He must flip Madison’s arms around and run backwards, making him look awkward rather than terrifying until you see his face — no longer shrunken skin but a bloody mess with teeth and hair. The SFX makeup in “Malignant” looks chillingly realistic, making viewers look on in disgust and wonder.
Combining genres of horror movies together with a crime and family drama twist, “Malignant” is a truly unique James Wan film that pays homage to his past horror hits.