James Wan’s ‘Malignant’ is a uniquely captivating mystery

[CW: This film contains instances of medical gore, violence and emotional/physical abuse.]

“Malignant,” (2021) directed by James Wan, is far from the Australian director’s first horror film. Known for “Saw,” “Insidious” and “The Conjuring,” Wan has become known for creating popular and, quite frankly, terrifying movies. “Malignant,” his most recent project, centers on Madison (Annabelle Wallace), a woman who is tormented by a shadowy figure that shows her visions of murder. Helping her sort out the mystery of the killer’s identity and motives is Madison’s sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), Seattle Police Department detectives Shaw (George Young) and Moss (Michole Briana White). Giving up the goose, so to speak, for the rest of the plot would not do the movie any justice. As with my review of “Saint Maud,” watch this one for yourself, and do your best not to spoil it. Every new surprise is worth the wait. 

Wan comments in an interview with Collider that he’s gained a reputation for supernatural horror from his work on “The Conjuring” and “Insidious.” As a result, the film is both a return to his horror roots and an attempt to subvert expectations.

During the same interview with Collider, Wan mentions how he draws inspiration from Italian Giallo films, bloody murder-mystery thrillers that bear strong ties to slasher films. Beyond that, science fiction and psychological thrillers also influenced the creation of “Malignant.” Certain scenes are even reminiscent of “John Wick” and other action thrillers with, of course, a horrific twist to them. 

Beyond the genre, the less visible components of the film merit a closer look. A movie’s soundtrack can sometimes set the tone of the entire piece, and “Malignant” is no different. In his interview with Collider, Wan mentions that he treated the soundtrack like an extension of the plot and mystery: it starts out small and grows to augment the climax of the film as the twists begin to reveal themselves. In addition, the special effects and choreography of the film are a feat of coordination, involving animatronics, casts of actors’ faces and the digital removal of the crew from shots. While sharing details might spoil the film, there are entire fight scenes shot using a stunt double who was entirely blind and faced backward, which only adds to a sense of mind-bending excitement when seen on screen. 

Per ComingSoon and Collider, “Malignant” initially wrapped production in Dec. 2019, with an intended release date of Aug. 14, 2020. Due to COVID-19, it was pushed back and released both in theaters and on HBO Max on Sept. 10, 2021.

“Malignant” is a truly mind-bending film where nothing is as it seems. With intense action scenes, a captivating mystery, unexplainable events and an unconventional villain, the movie is worth looking into. If you have HBO Max and are looking to spend a night asking yourself what’s really going on, then “Malignant” is certainly for you. 

 

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