There's a very specific moment in James Wan's most recent horror offering when either your earlier impulse to walk out will finally manifest in action, or it will be the exact brand of bonkers gearshift you needed to fully embrace this ridiculous movie. Personally, I don't remember ever laughing so much in a horror film — not because it's particularly funny, but because when the central twist finally drops (and man does it drop), its implications and their ensuing carnage are so outrageous that laughter becomes the only appropriate reaction. I mean this in the best possible way — Malignant is an absolute riot.
To be too specific about the plot would be to rob the film of its many surprises, but like many good horror movies, the principal idea is fairly simple. Madison (Peaky Blinders' terrific Annabelle Wallis, pictured above having a pretty terrible day) is stuck in an abusive marriage. She begins to have horrifying visions of grisly murders while suffering a bizarre and inexplicable kind of sleep paralysis which, at least she thinks, finds her temporarily transported to the crime scenes before she finally awakes. So visceral are these visions she becomes convinced they are actually happening, and so reaches out to the police for help. Madison's backstory is a sizeable and crucial piece of the puzzle, but that's it. That's all you get.
If this brand of horror/thriller (to specify whether it leans more towards supernatural, sci-fi or realism would be a spoiler in itself) piques your interest, you might be wary about the R18+ rating, but I'm not of the opinion it totally earned that, unless I'm just in denial about my level of desensitisation. The aforementioned Specific Moment results in a scene of gratuitous violence, unadulterated in its silliness but certainly high enough in bloodshed to cause a few squirms. I would liken it to the Crazy 88s scene in Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume I, Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service church fight or...most of Leigh Whannel's Upgrade. Yes, it's gory and squelchy and unapologetically bone-crunchy but it's also completely ludicrous, utterly stupid and chances are you'll still be howling with laughter too gutturally from the revelation of a few seconds prior to be able to process much of it.
Many are singing the praises of Wan's nods to giallo, but while some comparisons to the work of Dario Argento are definitely appreciable, I saw this much more as a love letter to the 80s schlock-horror legends like John Carpenter and Wes Craven. The dialogue is appropriately cheesy and reactions are just over-the-top enough to let you know that this movie is never taking itself seriously, despite its stoic poker face throughout. A film with this fever pitch of lunacy requires absolutely unwavering commitment from the cast, and Wallis brings this in spades. She is having a Very, Very Bad Time for most of Malignant's duration and turns in a draining and emotionally exhausting performance that the film almost doesn't deserve, until it absolutely does. The momentum starts to sag a little during the second act and there's probably a good 15 minutes of extraneous procedural cop drama fluff that might be more at home on the cutting room floor, but this is pretty quickly forgiven and forgotten once...ugh, you get it. This movie is so nuts.
Joseph Bishara's synth string-heavy score is at exactly the right level of hyperactive intrusion throughout, hilariously punctuating scares and realisations with screeches and wub-wubs that rival Benjamin Wallfisch's work on Whannel's The Invisible Man. Wan (who also directed The Conjuring and Saw) is a master at creating holistic visions where each individual component marries together seamlessly to improve the whole. His direction is tight and propulsive — already with an impressive record of turning cliches on their heads, he tracks an indoor foot chase, but from the ceiling. It's unnerving and terribly effective.
Once Malignant has been out for a while and social media discourse has done its thing, the details of the divisive and polarising final act will likely be common knowledge ("oh yeah, isn't that the movie with THAT scene?"). It's not going to be studied in Year 12 English curricula and it's unlikely to get any attention at the Oscars, but what it might just do is entertain you for a couple of hours, which is sometimes all I need a movie to do. I cannot wait to see it again.
Malignant is in cinemas now.