“Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.”

Director: James Wan
Writers: James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, Akela Cooper
Staring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michola Briana White
Streaming: HBO Max
Release Date: September 10, 2021

James Wan has escaped the conjuring universe and has stepped back into the director’s chair for an original horror movie. Malignant (2021) is his first movie since Aquaman (2018) and his first horror movie since The Conjuring 2 (2016). Can the well known director of Saw (2004), Insidious (2010) and the original The Conjuring (2013) conjure up the horror magic once again? Let’s dive into Malignant.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a young woman who has riding a cold streak. She has attempted to get pregnant with her abusive husband multiple times but miscarriages have plagued her. When another tragedy befalls her, Madison’s begins to see disturbing premonitions of murders. With the aid of some friends and family, Madison attempts to discover what madness is giving her waking nightmares.

The story is simple in premise and a return to basic roots is made easier with the perfect soil; a fast-paced runtime. Credit to Wan needs to be given for giving Malignant a quick pace to keep the audience from getting bogged down. There are nervy sequences sprinkled in frequently and the scares are not a lull to sleep type of jump scare. It is even fair to say that Malignant is not necessarily scary, but rather it’s very creepy and utterly mysterious. You’re on the edge of your seat but never will you jump out of it.

Delving a little deeper into the quick-twitched story (without spoiling), the trigger point of Malignant comes when Madison begins to see the murders of a series of doctors as part of her premonitions. The murderer is a thrashing devilish looking monster and it kills with a makeshift dagger. Madison goes to the police with information and naturally her knowledge raises some confusion. Madison’s sister Sydney Lake (Maddie Hasson) is searching for answers as well, leading her eventually to an old medically facility that spins the story on its head with the paper trail (and VHS trail) it keeps. The conclusion of the story is Malignant‘s best aspect. The final 15 minutes are bloody, creative and wonderfully shot. A classic “I’m not locked in here with your, you are locked in here with me,” moment makes the entire movie. Credit to Rorschach from Watchmen.

There were two shots in the movie that reminded me why Wan is a great story teller. Madison is scared in her home and there is extended shot of her running through different rooms, up the stairs and around every corner all from a direct overhead shot as if the roof was not there. For this who have seen Malignant, you can understand the significance of the angle of the shot and it also makes a lot of sense to have Madison running through a maze of her own residence. Lost in her own home. A helpless out of body experiment.

The second shot I enjoyed came with the murdering fiend in an environment with a large spinning fan. The killer is holding a women hostage in the dungeon. A rotating zoom out shot that begins near death and ends near the tied up prey reminds me a lot of a different franchise Wan is familiar with, Saw. The motion looked a lot like the spiral Jigsaw was often known for.

To quote from the movie, “It’s time to cut out the cancer.”

The weakest aspect of Malignant is the dialogue and in particular the talking moments involving the cops Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michola Briana White). Sure, it’s a story that involves murders so cops is necessary, but their inclusion seemed very haphazard till the final act. Moss truly was a waste of space and time. Kekoa got the one chase scene with the evil entity, but in the end he was forgettable.

The best thing I can say is that it is great to see Wan not being cornered into a franchise anymore. He got back to his roots and created a horror movie that is genuinely shocking in the final act. A story twist and sudden realization puts the audience on tilt and Wan keeps the audience leaning one way or the other with his movie’s direction. Welcome back James Wan.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)

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