James Wan's latest is an incredibly fun, surprisingly unique and a wonderfully gory horror film.
James Wan’s impressive string of great films makes him one of the most reliably consistent horror directors, both in terms of quality and box office take. The acclaimed director of The Conjuring 1 and 2, Saw and Aquaman among others over the span of his twenty year plus career has solidified his status as and outstanding director. All of this made the critically maligned and box office bomb of his latest horror outing Malignant quite a surprise.
However, upon seeing the film it all becomes quite clear regardless of personal opinion. Malignant is a strange film, there’s no doubt about it – it’s a bizarre meeting point between a cheap and sleazy ‘90s B-movie (cult director Frank Henenlotter is a clear inspiration in both the film’s content and style) and the style that James Wan himself is so often credited for in modern horror with grim colour grading, drawn out shots, frequent use of zooms and jumpscares.
These high and low brow elements together may sound like they wouldn’t mesh very well, however Malignant’s power comes from the surprising effectiveness with which it toes the line. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to poke a little bit of fun at itself from time to time (the performances early on in particular seem intentionally over-the-top, for example), but it reverts back to being just serious enough to be convincing whenever necessary. Its ludicrous plot is treated seriously which makes suspension of belief stay in tact, and the brilliant special effects also make everything that extra bit more convincing.
Wan has always been a director who flourishes in set-pieces, and that doesn’t change here at all. One scene during the finale set in a police station might just be the most exciting and exhilarating scene in any film so far this year thanks to the excellent gore effects, the great design of the villain and the unique look Wan accomplishes with his cinematography throughout this film, much like what Leigh Whannell (notably a frequent collaborator with Wan) did for a few moments in his film Upgrade (2018).
Malignant won’t be a film that everybody will be on board with, but it has the markings of a future cult classic madly scrawled all over it. It’s a step in a new direction for James Wan, who remains one of Hollywood’s better directors, and even if the commercial take of the film doesn’t reflect it (as should have been expected for such a wildly bold film), it feels like Wan has been let loose here to create something he has had stashed away for a long time. All we can do is hope and pray that the commercial failure of this film doesn’t halt Wan’s other work, as if it’s anything like this we’d be losing out on a wonderfully fun horror film with more guts and more importantly an outright pride to be a horror film and nothing more.
Malignant knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else, and that is exactly what makes it such a joy to watch.
Malignant, directed by James Wan, is currently in cinemas, certificate 18. Watch the trailer on YouTube below: