As a director, James Wan has quite a track record at this point. From helping to create the Saw universe to being the brainchild behind The Conjuring series, the man knows his way around horror.
Truth be told, with Aquaman and his recent entries in the Fast and Furious saga, he has also been branching out. But this year he dropped Malignant – a horror that is so over-the-top insane that it might just be one of the best horror films of 2021. An homage to the great Giallo films of the late 70s and 80s, Malignant is a neon-soaked nightmare. Just make sure to wear your raincoat because, as stated in one of James Wan’s prior films, “Yes, there will be blood.”
Lots of it, actually.
But First, What is a Giallo Film?
TL,DR, Giallo is colorful, campy, and gory as hell with a sometimes overbearing soundtrack.
To truly appreciate the insanity of Malignant, you first need to understand what it is aiming to do. Malignant is an homage to Giallo cinema. Giallo cinema is a genre of Italian horror films where there is a bit of intentional campiness and over acting (overreacting to things, specifically). There are bright and beautiful uses of color throughout Giallo films, and they have a score that really swells and times and sells the tension. Finally, Giallo films tend to use bright red blood and lots of it to great effect.
If that is still a bit unclear to you, please allow me to share one of my favorite Giallo scenes with you from the classic Suspiria, directed by Giallo master Dario Argento.
Do you hear the jarring, anxiety-inducing music? Do you see the strong use of colors and cinematography? Do you see the slight over-acting and camp? The blood and the screaming? That, dear reader, is Giallo. And Malignant is a love letter to Giallo cinema done so well you can barely tells it’s an homage.
People approaching Malignant thinking it is like The Conjuring or Saw will be disappointed, but artistically, that’s no bad thing.
Malignant is so much more than that.
The Batsh*t Insane Story
First and foremost, this movie has the most insane opening scene in a horror I’ve seen in a very long time. I am going to withhold details of that scene, as in my opinion, it contains spoilers.
Madison Mitchell (played masterfully by actress Annabelle Wallis) is an unhappy pregnant woman stuck in a doomed relationship with an abusive partner. The movie starts with him smashing his pregnant wife’s head into a wall, leaving a blood stain and leading to a slew of sloppy apologies.
Flash forward, someone dressed all in black and moving strangely breaks into her house and straight-up filets her boyfriend in front of her. This is what kicks off our story, and it only gets crazier from here.
After the incident, Madison wakes up in the hospital only to find out she lost her baby, and from there it all amps up very quickly.
You see, Madison has a connection to the killer from this point forth, and can see when the person kills, right down to the smallest details. This becomes a major hook of the film and we see more murders continue, police begin to suspect that Madison may be more involved then she first lets on.
The Killer is Fantastically Insane
A good Giallo movie is only as good as its villain, and the killer in Malignant easily stacks up there with some of the best. Donned in all-black with long black hair hiding their face, Dimitri as they will come to be called, is truly a memorable horror antagonist.
What’s so compelling about the killer is that they moves and looks like someone walking backwards with broken limbs, only they are walking forward. It is incredibly unique and creepy and adds to the smothering atmosphere of the movie. From the weird way he talks like he is speaking through a cancer throat box to the jarring, robotic movement of his broken body parts, Dimitri leaves a memorably creepy impression.
Also, as with most Giallo bad guys, the killer in this film has a favorite “weapon” which it often utilizes in increasingly gruesome ways. Every time you think this sicko has gone too far, he will go further in the next scene. The bar never stops being raised until the final moments of this film.
Twists and Turns
The endless plot twists are another underappreciated aspect of Giallo cinema, and Malignant is full of them. Just when you think you know what lane this movie is driving in, it changes lane without signal or warning. But somehow, it all works and tells a cohesive story, though the story itself may be mad as a hatter.
I can also tell you, spoiler free, that there is a fifteen-minute segment of this movie that takes place in a police station, and no matter what I say I could never prepare you for it.
It is violence and gore at its apex, and it is well worth watching this movie alongside someone just so you can look over at them during the prison scene and see their mouth hanging all the way down to the floor.
In Closing (the Wound)
2020 and 2021 have been a real trainwreck for many of us, so a little entertainment and distraction from the horrors of daily life are much needed. That is exactly what Malignant does so well that so many horror films forget to do:
It is fun.
You laugh, you wince, you shield your eyes, you scream. It is what horror needs to be, and could well be James Wan’s best work. If I haven’t convinced you to watch Malignant by this point, it may not be for you.
Malignant gets 8.5 tumors out of 10.