I’ll say this for Malignant: once it starts, it doesn’t let up.
The trailer might lead you to believe this is simply a twist on a haunted house film, whereby the lead Madison (Annabelle Wallis) ends up being the real “source” of the haunting all along. You expect a slower-paced horror, focused on building suspense and dread as Madison’s waking visions turn progressively scarier.
Instead, director James Wan jumps right in, unleashing the film’s supernatural threat to wreak haunting havoc on the home and make a big kill, all within the first 15 minutes.
From there, we discover Madison’s terrifying visions actually pull her away from her home. She finds herself transported and paralyzed, forced to watch as the killer viciously murders again and again. In its early scenes, Malignant comes across as a sort of slasher-flick-meets-psychological-horror-movie. As it progresses, it…strays.
Whether this is good or bad will depend on what you’re looking for in a movie, but more on that in a minute. Madison, with the help of her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), does what so many people in horror movies refuse to do: they go to the police. The sisters convince the cops of Madison’s visions… or well, they convince them there’s a killer on the loose at least, by leading them to a victim’s body.
Subsequently, the middle of Malignant turns into something more like a supernatural police procedural thriller than a straight horror film. In fact, we get a (pretty long) chase scene between the killer and one of the cops, in which we don’t see Madison herself at all.
As Malignant ties its threads together and the true nature of the plot becomes clear, we get a dramatic reveal, some body horror, and… an action sequence reminiscent of The Matrix.
Malignant: Something for everyone…or something for no one
Shadow figures and supernatural powers and slasher gore. Child experimentation and hypnotic regression and an abandoned asylum. Malignant tumors, sleep paralysis, psychic bonds, secret adoption, skeptic-and-believer cops, the power of family. There’s a lot going on in Malignant, and the end result is going to be something for everyone… or something for no one.
Malignant is just pretty batsh*t. Probably the best description of it I can give is that it feels like several of the most out-there episodes of The X-Files all rolled into one film: a mix of a dozen sci-fi and supernatural plot points, with a bit of police procedural to tie them together, and a healthy dash of horror and (probably-self-aware) horror-comedy.
If you like your horror clean-cut and to the point – like, just give me haunted house or a Michael Myers, please – Malignant is gonna be a big ol’ pass for you. The movie is many things, but straightforward, standard horror isn’t one of them.
If you’re more inclined towards the unusual and inventive, you’ll appreciate Malignant for what it is: an inventive film with a vision. To be clear, it’s definitely not perfect. At times, the genre-shifts are jarring, and the ending was arguably a bit anticlimactic. But did I find the film entertaining and compelling overall? Yeah. At no point did I think about turning it off. And really, isn’t that what entertainment is all about – just enjoying the ride?