Malignant has an ending so audaciously goofy that it makes up for the fact that the bulk of its near two-hour runtime is largely just director / co-writer James Wan anxiously tossing in one corny choice after another to keep the movie moving toward its climax.
Sometimes films backload the good stuff so hard that it becomes difficult to recommend them. Malignant, though, has such an insane payoff that the rest of it fades into memory the moment it hits the final turn and shit goes south. Yeah, there’s a big twist. It’s an obvious twist. But the execution and fallout is far from obvious. If I were to describe the nature of the final few sequences in this review, you probably wouldn’t believe someone with Wan’s pedigree (The Conjuring, Insidious, Saw) would write and film something so magnificently stupid … and so totally incredible.
Annabelle Wallis stars as Madison Mitchell, a woman with a mysterious past who just wants to become a mother. She was adopted at a young age and believes the blood connection between herself and a child would fill a void she’s felt for her entire life. Unfortunately she’s married to a total jerk, Derek (Jake Abel), who blames her for her string of miscarriages. “How many times do I have to watch my children die inside of you?” he screams, slamming her head into the wall so hard it leaves a dent. Pretty unpleasant stuff! The film really doesn’t bother digging into it.
One night, deep in her sleep, Madison has a gory dream of Derek being violently murdered. In the morning she finds him, neck snapped, at the bottom of the stairs. And that’s just her first nocturnal premonition. As the body count rises, the police start to suspect her. After all: She’s the one telling them where the bodies are, ahem, buried.
Wan’s never been a subtle director; even his Fast & Furious film is egregious in the context of that franchise. Malignant is filled with over-the-top line reads, dramatic musical cues and a killer who shows their form right away without any ambiguity as to their method of murder. There are a few jump scares. But as a horror film, it’s pretty tame. It feels like Wan recognizes everything before the final 30 minutes is perfunctory and thus makes it as silly and extreme as he can. There’s no patience and no atmosphere. It’s all about getting the audience to those last moments. It’s all about the bloodletting.
That’s as much as I can say about the big finale without giving away the direction Wan takes. As a fan of big horror, big gore and slashers, this is truly one of the most delightful surprises I’ve seen onscreen in some time. Malignant‘s slasher, Gabriel, moves in a unique way and kills in shocking, unpleasant ways. But there’s something special about him I just can’t reveal, except to beg interested audiences to watch Malignant without knowing what its final moments contain. Then again, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.