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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Chishty

Malignant (2021)

Visually uninspired wanna-be Giallo.

Malignant is being touted by some as the film James Wan would have made much earlier in his career had the evil studios not been breathing down his neck to produce The Conjurings and Annabelles.

This is a rather ridiculous notion because barring perhaps, Saw, all Wan has ever seemed to want to make is insipid, toothless (and in the case of the last Conjuring, even tasteless) domestic supernatural films. Basically, horror for those who do not really like horror and think that jump-scares are wonderful replacements for any raw, potentially uncomfortable human (or political) truths that effective horror unearths and brings you face-to-face with.

The film begins with a sequence inside a Gothic-looking facility where the doctors unsuccessfully try to contain a violent, powerful entity.

Years later, in Seattle, we meet Madison (Annabelle Wallis), pregnant and struggling with her abusive husband Derek. Their first scene culminates in him banging Madison's head against a wall so hard that she keeps bleeding through all of 111 minutes of the film.

I am kind of digressing, but this is what I found interesting here: because Derek has to be brutally disposed off in the next scene, Wan makes sure that he is especially obnoxious. Hence, lines such as "How many times do I have to watch my children die inside of you?". These are minor yet important clues to Wan's 'safe' sensibility as a horror filmmaker. He cannot bear to kill anyone unless they are really 'bad'. This would still be okay if his main characters, i.e. the 'good guys' were not so thinly drawn out. One can't even call them idiotic because they hardly ever do anything other than just react.

Madison is nothing but a conduit for the preposterous story here. The only two major things that I learned about her were that she has had a few miscarriages and has a dark past. Ditto, Sydney (Maddie Hasson) Madison's sibling, whose existence is solely to come and provide some exposition to move the story forward.

She also acts, out-of-the-blue as a plucky detective when she visits this abandoned facility where the film begins at night, alone to investigate and get "proof". It is shocking that she manages to find everything - including VHS cassettes that play pristinely.

Sydney parks:

Back to the plot: The doctors that were trying to control the 'cancerous' entity in the first scene start dying and Madison becomes the main suspect. Madison realizes that these murders could be committed by her imaginary childhood friend Gabriel.

It is the last act of Malignant that has excited many fans. And, indeed, Wan here seems to let go as he never has, to deliver a bone-crunching gorefest. In his interviews, Wan has namedropped Gialli maestros like Argento and there are some references to the 70's Italian genre here. But like the characters, these are also superficial.

Wan is only clever enough to have the murderer - Gabriel, who could be Madison's imaginary friend - wear leather gloves and have tonnes of gore. There is no distinctive visual style here that made that genre so popular.

Unlike, the Gialli that Wan claims to want to emulate, his film's overproduced aesthetics are too out of the league with the luridness of the story. Gialli sought to fuse form and content and often arrived at a coherent artistic vision. Wan's film comes across as a cynical cash-grab intended to broaden his fanbase without any genuine attempt to stretch his artistic oeuvre.

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