This is one piece in a collection of 10 film reviews submitted by this year’s New Wave Jury members at Cornwall Film Festival 2021. The collection tackles recent films that stood out as radical works of filmmaking. You can read the other reviews here.
I had gone to the cinema on a whim that day and honestly, I had wanted to watch Candyman (2021). Unfortunately, Candyman wasn’t playing at the right times so the lady at the counter suggested Malignant (2021). It was the first I’d heard of it so I shrugged my shoulders, bought some M&Ms and ended up in front of James Wan’s new horror flick with no expectations. Despite having no expectations to begin with, I still wasn’t expecting that.
Malignant follows Madison, a young woman tormented by horrifying visions of strangers being massacred, who she discovers that her visions are real events and sets out to find the victims and stop the bloody murders she witnesses every night. Doesn’t sound too special, right? After some intrigue from the film’s bizarre opening sequence, the main body of the narrative plods along in a relatively predictable fashion before climaxing in one of the most bonkers third acts I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
This is a film that is disguised as a mainstream horror, it waits for you to lean back into the common comforts of the genre and then unveils itself as an absurd body horror that is sure to stick in your mind after you leave the theatre, whether you like it or not. In my mind, the only reason why such a film can be pulled off is its campy undertones, there is something about the tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously and I think it’s ultimately the reason why this film can work on any level. At the same time, I could totally understand why Malignant wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. There is a lot of waiting involved before any sort of originality begins to show. Although the Kafkaesque action set pieces are pretty spectacular, they can also be nauseating to some. I haven’t looked myself, but I imagine there are more than a few reviews that are simply just “that was a bit dumb.”
James Wan has earned quite the reputation in horror following his smash hits The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious (2010) but Malignant feels very different from its predecessors. Wan used this film as an opportunity to do what I like to refer to as a ‘Miley Cyrus.’ He used the title to branch away from demons, ghosts and haunted houses, and instead delved into developing what feels like a far more authentic style of storytelling. Like Miley Cyrus in her Wrecking Ball era, Malignant isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely something to be seen, and oh boy, is it a lot of fun.