Yikes! One of the unexpected fallers in 2021’s race for the drastically reduced box-office prizes on offer was James Wan’s return to the horror territories that he’d previously made his own. After the promising Dead Silence, the Insidious and Conjuring movies made Wan a brand, even if both franchises fizzled out in terms of appeal. His latest, Malignant, has an unfortunate but ultimately opportune title, and even though both film (and poster) lift liberally from the usual influential sources (Mario Bava, Dario Argento), a third act twist into super-hero action turns out to be a twist too far.
Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) is a woman with problems; she’s pregnant, and stuck in a domestic abuse relationship with a violent man who slams her against the wall during an avoidable argument, causing her to lose her baby. The next day, Madison’s partner is found dead, and the cops suspect her, so together with her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), Madison starts seeking the real killer, who is now on a killing spree in Seattle. Madison seems to be able to view every killing through some kind of remote vision phenomena, and her search leads her not only to the sinister Simion hospital, but to her own adoption, uncovering a particularly nasty family secret…
OK, Spoiler Alert, it’s M Night Shyamalan time, and everyone who doesn’t want to know the secret contained in Malignant should stand outside the room while the grown-ups discuss the ending. Madison discovers that…she is the real killer, or rather, inside her body are the vestiges of a parasitic twin that emerges and murders police-stations full of dozens of cops and prisoners at a time like John Wick on steroids. Yup, it’s 1982’s Basket Case, or 1987’s The Kindred all over again, but with better special effects; Malignant is a very fancy film, beautifully produced as you’d expect from Wan, and there’s a few foreboding moments in the build up that update giallo topes with some imagination.
Worth the trek for tolerant horror devotees, then, but something of a howl of frustration for anyone hoping for a credible story Malignant is likely to pick up the ‘cult classic booby prize rather than the box office champion expected. Wan has made some silly films before, but the scrupulously observed B movie trappings previously kept things grounded. Malignant goes way over the top with the comic-book action in a way that worked for Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, but doesn’t pan out the same way here. There are unlikely to be sequels, or a cinematic universe following on from the broken-backed narrative of Malignant, although as failures go, it’s certainly compelling in patches until the groaner of a punchline emerges like an evil parasitic twin from the back of your melon.