I’m so happy right now.
It’s not often that I walk out of the cinema with a big-ass grin on my face feeling like I just spent a day at the spa, but James Wan’s latest, Malignant, was a movie that did just that. I’m not the biggest fan of Wan’s horror work, Saw aside, so I went in ready to have an Insidious-esque good-ish time to get me in the spooky season mood. But honestly? Malignant might be my favourite movie of the year so far, and I just can’t stop thinking about what a bloody good time it was.
Following Maddy (Annabelle Wallis), a young woman recovering from the death of her abusive husband and loss of her unborn child, as she starts to witness a series of gruesome murders through an apparent psychic link with the killer, Malignant starts off as a pretty standard ghost story. For the first half-hour or so, I thought I was getting another James Wan special – competent, solid blockbuster supernatural horror with plenty of creaky floors and flickering lights and vaguely Catholic overtones.
But then – and I’m not going to say a huge amount about the plot here, because it’s such a fucking good time to experience fresh – it takes a turn into the deranged, and I am just obsessed with the way it executes its fabulously daft and exquisitely silly plot. The writing is pitch-perfect in its brevity, leaping from plot point to plot point with almost comical speed to make sure that we never have enough time to guess where the next twist is coming from, leaving it to come dropping through the ceiling (sometimes literally) right on our heads. It’s storytelling turned up to twenty, packed with shocking moments and gnarly nastiness that spans everything from ghost story to Eraserhead and everything in between.
It’s absurdly gothic body horror, steeped in the smoky underground of Seattle, but one that allows for Wan to show off his blockbuster action chops acquired via Fast and Furious and Aquaman; the villainous Gabriel, our antagonist, is an actual person (ish) instead of the ephemeral, weightless spirit that often inhabits Wan’s movies, and that makes for some cracking action to spike through the jump-scares and lingering long shots. We know that Wan can do action, we know that he can do supernatural horror, but seeing the two come together like this is something I never knew I needed. It’s a greatest-hits of his talent and the skill he’s developed over a near two decades in the industry, stringing together a plot that allows for all of his best instincts to glow with confidence an competence.
Malignant feels like a sumptuous climax to James Wan’s career thus far; a loving addition to the horror genre, building on his work in The Conjuring universe and Insidious (and even Dead Silence), that pulls in his skilled action cinematography eye and procedural framing devices and peppers the whole thing with a hefty dose of industrial, nu-metal vibes a la early Saw movies.
I don’t think that Malignant is claiming to be high-prestige horror, and for a lot of people, it’s not going to be in the same bracket in terms of quality as things like Hereditary and Get Out. But for what it is – gleeful, fun, inventive, slick, a love letter to the genre as well as a fantastic addition to it in its own right – it’s firing on all cylinders, and I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The New York Times)