James Wan has returned to his horror roots in ultraviolent fashion and I loved every minute of it. Malignant mixes the best bits of Wan’s work in the genre, with the slow burn that we find within The Conjuring franchise’s first two films, sprinkled with the wonderfully timed scares of Insidious, and finally all blended together with the bloody brutality found in Saw and Death Sentence (a personal favourite of mine.) I went into the movie not having any idea what it was about, and it had me constantly guessing what was real, where it was going and just what was going on, which is more than you’d expect from your average horror flick – but this isn’t an average horror flick, this is a spectacularly unorthodox James Wan masterpiece.
Now unfortunately Wan’s name in horror has been somewhat watered down with his attachment to the half a dozen Conjuring-verse spinoff movies that are often much more miss than they are hit. While he’s only attached to them via producer and story credits his name is front and center in the marketing, which does give the idea to audiences that paint-by-numbers horror is to be associated with things Wan is a part of these days. With Malignant Wan proves that such a theory is simply not the case, at least not when he’s behind the camera and has anything to say about it.
I won’t get too much into what the story itself is about, as experiencing it as it unfolds over the course of the film’s almost two-hour runtime is part of what makes the film as entertaining as it is. Without ruining anything, the basics are that the story centers around Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a woman who is in an abusive relationship that begins to have horrifyingly realistic visions of murders taking place. Her knowledge of the vicious crimes doesn’t just lead to questions from Detectives Shaw (George Young) and Moss (Michole Briana White), but also cause her to question her own sanity. Things take a turn for the worse when Madison is contacted by someone who claims to be the killer – her imaginary childhood friend, Gabriel.
I’ll say that while I won’t be placing any spoilers here I will be talking about things that some may rather not know, so if you’ve yet to see Malignant then I highly recommend you just stop reading and go rent or buy the movie and enjoy it in all its gratuitously violent glory. Okay, now that those who want to go in completely blank are off to pop popcorn I’ll touch a bit more on just how much there is to love here. Wan proves with Malignant that he isn’t afraid to break genre conventions, as he creates such a wonderfully atmospheric horror film throughout the first two acts before just going absolutely ballistic with buckets of blood and insane action for the film’s latter half. I’m sure it’s possible that it’ll be jarring to some, but I was just so engrossed and elated at everything happening on the screen that I can’t speak for those people and can only praise the decision myself.
The movie is also absolutely gorgeous in the most hauntingly chilling ways possible. When Madison is having one of her sleep paralysis nightmare visions, the world around her transforms into the places in which the murders are taking place and it does so in just mesmerizing fashion. Kudos to both the special effects team and to Cinematographer Michael Burgess for their work here, and to Wan for his ideas of how to best utilize the camera movements to not only make these moments that much more impressive, but also multiple other wonderfully handled scenes throughout that see their intensity heightened by the way Wan chooses to maneuver the camera.
Let me also touch upon the acting, which can make or break a film like this. A movie where an imaginary friend is calling your protagonist and claiming to be the film’s killer can quickly fall into incredibly cheesy territory if the actors behind the characters treat it like a lame B-movie. Luckily Wan’s streak of landing top tier talent to bring his films to life continues, as Wallis is absolutely spectacular here. Her work makes the story both captivating and believable on all the levels it should be, as if the character of Madison falters even a little bit in taking things seriously, the entire story crumbles around her.
With that said, the supporting cast is just as important and everyone involved is just as committed as Wan and Wallis are to making this an unconventional horror thrill ride for fans. Maddie Hasson, who plays Madison’s sister Sydney is the perfect counterpart to our protagonist, and Young and White do a solid job as the film’s detectives, keeping things moving forward but also not coming off as bumbling cops who are clueless to the ongoing happenings around them. Just from top to bottom this is once again just pitch perfect casting done by Wan’s film casting regulars, Anne McCarthy and Kellie Roy.
If you’ve tired of the Conjuring-verse’s often generic monster-of-the-week type spinoff offerings, fear not, because Wan has returned to the realm of originality with one of the best horror films in recent years. Malignant is an absolute blast from start to finish, and just a joyous rollercoaster of haunting and bloody delights that shouldn’t be missed.
Blu-ray Video and Audio Review:
The Blu-ray looks fantastic, presented in the usual 1080p MPEG-4 theatrical widescreen. The blacks, which run rampant throughout the majority of the film, never come off as crushed or muddy, and the CGI transformations of the current location of Madison to the murder scenes looks as natural as one could hope for, never yanking the viewer out of the moment and if anything just pulling them in more.
On the audio side of things we’ve got fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound for your listening pleasure – or displeasure, depending on how easily you scare. The score and sound effects blast through beautifully and never battle with the dialogue for superiority, both instead working harmoniously as audiences should always hope for and expect.
Malignant: James Wan’s Visions – This sole feature on the disc comes in at just over 14-minutes in length and as the title points out it focuses on Wan explaining how the film came to be, production and behind-the-scenes notes, and more of the usual bits we’ve come to expect. It’s a decent length, but for a movie like this I hoped for a more in-depth look at various parts of the filmmaking process. Unfortunate, but at least this is better than the promotional fluff that’s sometimes passed off as special features.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this Blu-ray was sent to me to cover in honest and truthful fashion.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents Malignant. Directed by: James Wan. Written by: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, Akela Cooper. Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jake Abel. Running time: 111 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Nov. 30, 2021.