MALIGNANT (2021)

Annabelle Wallis as Madison
  • Release Date: 10/09/2021
  • Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White
  • Director: James Wan

An outrageous re-tread of the classic 80s horror with the Midas touch of James Wan

— Ambar Chatterjee

Malignant is about a concept that many will find hard to digest in terms of scientific viability and the astronomical level of happenstance on which the proceedings of atleast a third of the film are anchored. However, what cannot be ignored is the fact that James Wan has successfully recreated the 80s vibe and vision of horror and it feels just as amazing and alluring. If one is able to suspend their respective disbeliefs, Malignant has enough entertainment, thrills, and twists to keep one invested for its runtime. Add to that some beautiful cinematography, proficient visual effects, and effective editing and you have a film that may not be high on horror but surely is brimming with rambunctious energy and over-the-top thrills.

Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant and his boyfriend doesn’t seem to be too confident that she will give birth to a healthy child as she has already had 3 miscarriages. The two exchange harsh words and Madison is thrust against the wall by her boyfriend out of anger. She is badly hurt, is bleeding, and decides to shun her boyfriend out of the room for a while. That very night, her house is attacked by a maleficent entity that brutally murders Madison’s boyfriend and attacks her too. She is hospitalized and has another miscarriage.

Upon her return home, she starts hallucinating gruesome murders during which she is unable to move a muscle and yet is able to view the brutal murders taking place in a different setting. She is shocked to learn that every murder she hallucinated actually occurred and yet she didn’t have a clue as to why she was getting the visions. She takes the help of her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), and starts rattling some bushes to understand and deal with her predicament. What she gradually learns not only shakes her to the core but also throws open a door on a sinister past and a sinister yet entity that will threaten not only Madison but also everything that she holds dear.  

Maddie Hasson with Annabelle Wallis

As is the case with most James Wan films, Malignant is constantly on the move and it never stops to take a breath. The film’s premise is set up within the first 15 minutes of its runtime and then the director goes on to build up on that ripping off layer after layer from the story and at every juncture serving the audiences with a delicious new twist and mystery. After one has seen the film, one would understand that the key to the mystery and the entire story is basically laid out in the first 15 minutes of its runtime but it is executed with such intelligence that almost no one would be able to understand which way the story was headed.

There has been a lot of criticism about the overtly theatrical performances by some of the minor actors of the film and how it spoils the setup of the film. To this, I have to admit that the criticisms are well-placed. However, if one looks at the 80s horror films (off which Malignant is inspired), this was something that was rather regular and was in many ways a norm to incite fear and thrills. Subtlety was not the highest on their priority lists and there were instances of even the primary cast members going the extra yard with their expressions when it was the last thing that was needed from them. Thus the criticism, even though well-placed, is ultimately unnecessary in this regard.

If one sets out to criticize and nitpick a film like this, it is better to not watch it in the first place. Everything from the concept to the scientific explanations can be torn apart on the altar of logic and reason leaving nothing but the skeleton of a film idea. But in a film like this, we are not actually looking for a logically and realistically air-tight narrative. What we want is just enough realism to not water down the concept and all that we see unfold on screen. There also needs to be a sense of realism and authority in how the characters play out the drama and how they approach the narrative. The film shouldn’t make fun of its own silliness and it should take itself and all that it shows just enough seriously. We get all that here and hence it is easy to immerse oneself in the story.

Annabelle Wallis in another still

The rendering of the protagonist by Annabelle Wallis was perfect and in strong keeping with the mood and feel of the character. There wasn’t a single sequence where she felt out of place. Even in the action sequences, she gave out the right vibes. It isn’t easy to play a mother who has lost her child and the father of it but doesn’t feel too bad about losing the father but is devastated by the loss of the child. She hits the right notes on those feelings. Also, her rendering of the sequences where she is witness to the carnage but is unable to move was exceptionally well done.

My only qualm with this film was that I expected it to be a horror film but it turned out to be a slasher film. It was a subversion of expectation for me and not in a good way. However, in its defense, the film does have some chilling moments that border on being horror. James Wan has tried his hands at a plethora of genres in the action-horror space and he brings in his expertise of all those outings to aid this film that may not be a Conjuring or a Saw but has some of the best elements of both with a little sprinkling of Aquaman.  

Malignant is highly entertaining. It has some of the most outrageous thematic and scientific elements that you can imagine in a slasher flick and it presents them in as believable a manner as is possible. It moves at a breakneck pace and always keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats. It has a believable protagonist and a solid actor playing the character that brings respectability to an otherwise outlandishly commercial and insane film. What more could we ask from a film like this? I traveled 80 Kms from my home town to catch a screening of this film and I was not disappointed to have taken that trouble.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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