Malignant (2021)

This weekend has seen a lot of talk about James Wan‘s latest film, Malignant. FIRST OFF, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK ABOUT THE FILM WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT THE FILM. THIS MEANS, YES, YOU MAY BE READING SPOILERS, SO IT’S UP TO YOU IF YOU WANT TO KEEP READING. The general feedback seems to be people love it or hate it. I haven’t seen too much in between. You either get it or you don’t. The problem is, upon viewing, I don’t know what we are supposed to get, especially if you go into it blind. Second off, I’m not a James Wan fan. I’m not saying I dislike his films. I personally just haven’t really watched many of them. The original Saw was okay. I really liked it at the time, but I don’t think it has held up well over the years. I had seen Dead Silence back when it was released and didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other. I also have seen the first Conjuring and thought it had a good beginning but really fell apart in the end. That’s my experience with James Wan so far.

From what I’ve read on Twitter, Facebook, etc., people seem to have different opinions of the film’s intent. Seeing such a vast array of opinions makes me believe no one really knows what Wan was going for here, and that’s okay. If reviewing the movie, is Wan’s intent irrelevant? Is the only thing that matters what I took out of the movie? I don’t know. I’ll give it my best shot here.

I’ve been looking for what Wan himself has said about the movie. So far, the interwebs has not revealed much of anything to me. All I’ve been able to find is him saying he needed a “palette cleanser” between the Aquaman movies and wanted to do an R-Rated Horror film.

On imdb, the film is classified as an Action | Crime | Horror. Based on this classification, I’d say the movie is a complete failure. There isn’t much to the police procedural. Nothing sticks out as being overly scary, although the opening abuse scene makes one cringe. There was movement, so action is fitting. I have read this was Wan’s attempt at a modern day throwback to the giallo. For all the Italian horror I’ve seen (I admit I’m not an expert) and the films identified as being giallo, I didn’t really see the connection. Okay. In the giallos I’ve seen, there is usually a detective(s) trying to figure out the case. That’s the only connection I really saw. If that makes it a giallo, then is The Exorcist a giallo as well? I’ve also read where the film is “bat shit” crazy, but I didn’t experience that either. Maybe I’m too old.

Maddie Hasson (Sydney) and Annabelle Wallis (Madison)

The film starts out with Madison attacked by her husband. She’s pregnant…again, after three miscarriages in two years. She has a headache, and he gets pissed cuz she turns off the tv. He ends up ramming her head into the wall. She locks him out of the bedroom. He ends up getting killed by a mysterious creature in black. She survives the attack and becomes prime suspect #1 by the detectives who look and act like rejects from a Saw movie. The figure keeps killing, and she has some sort of psychic link and witnesses the murders. This is all very bland, very boring. I nearly turned off the film a couple times.

I can’t remember how far into the film it was, but Madison is eventually given a hypnotherapy session by the detectives on the case. I don’t know if I can describe it, but, the way it plays out, I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. At that point, I made the assumption that the cast and crew were in on the joke. This is a bad movie. It’s supposed to be a bad movie. Enjoy how bad it is. For me, this is the only way to identify this movie as a success – as a comedy, a film that successfully revels in how bad it is. Then I had to ask myself, why the excruciating first hour or so of the film? By the time of this hypnotherapy session, you know we are dealing with either a split personality or evil twin. In the opening of the film, there is a line to cut the cancer out, which already makes things pretty clear. The question: are we dealing with a My Bloody Valentine remake situation or a Basket Case situation. Those familiar with Basket Case will probably get all the clues, as all of Madison’s childhood doctors are the ones being murdered.

Marlon Brando in Basket Case (1982)

Eventually, the way Madison is talking reminds her mom of these unusual moments with her imaginary friend, which they have on tape. They end up watching tapes of Madison (then known as Emily) prior to being adopted and discover her true fate of having a parasitic twin face growing out the back of her head. Maybe this is shocking. Maybe some viewers didn’t see it coming. I thought it was played for laughs. I’m still looking for proof that laughter was the intent.

Anyway, I asked above why go through the excruciating first hour or so before diving headlong into the comedy, before giving that wink to the audience that they are in on the joke? You’d think they give those winks from the start instead of just looking like a bad movie. I have a theory. It’s my Leprechaun theory. My theory with Leprechaun is that they were trying to make a good, scary movie about an evil leprechaun. Eventually, they said, “you know, the movie is shit and isn’t delivering, so let’s just go nuts the rest of the way and give the audience a good laugh.” I don’t know if this is what really went on with Mark Jones and crew; it’s just a theory. I think the same may have happened here with James Wan. They saw the first hour was crap, so they just said “fuck it” the rest of the way and gave the audience some laughs.

Jennifer Aniston and Warwick Davis in Leprechaun (1993)

What do I make of this movie? Am I laughing at them? Am I laughing with them? Does it really matter? Does it impact my enjoyment or lack-thereof? How do you grade a movie like this when you can’t find a definitive intention of the movie? Again, does that intent even matter? I don’t know the intent of Things, but I still enjoyed it a lot more than any human should.

Rating:

If you are going in and expecting a gruesome horror with a great story and some decent acting, I’d have to rate this a 2/10. There just wasn’t much in the way of horror to make it enjoyable. Again, I nearly turned it off a couple times because I didn’t want to waste my time. The story was reminiscent of Basket Case (parasitic twin, psychic connection, killing doctors who performed the surgery), but James Wan took the story in different directions (twin wasn’t aware of the plan, bad twin stuffed back inside the good twin’s head), so I wouldn’t call it a rip-off. However, the characters were not endearing like Duane, Casey, the motel manager, and that old old guy who tries to rob Duane. And, the monster is not as fun or freaky as Belial.

If you are going in and expecting to sit through some shit before the comedy begins, then I’d give this a 6/10. I still can’t forgive that first hour, even if the intention was for it to be bad. However, I haven’t laughed out loud this much in a while, so it deserves some credit for that. I’m tempted to re-watch, going in with the thought of this movie being a comedy to see if that helps the first hour. However, I’m trying to reach 100 horror movies in 92 days, and I’m way behind, so the repeat viewing will have to wait. At least, if the different mindset doesn’t help, I know I can just turn it off.

Maddie Hasson, James Wan, Annabelle Wallis

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