Ever since Leigh Whannell woke up in a half-filled tub in an abandoned bathroom at the beginning of Saw back in 2004, modern murder maestro James Wan has been at the forefront of altering the face of mainstream fear. Be it the industrial sadism of the Saw series, the neo-hauntings of the Insidious franchise or the glossy jump scares of the Conjuring Universe, the Wan may well be the most successful horror director of the modern age and with his new movie, Malignant, he’s gonna try and add yet another example of nastiness to his memorable rogues gallery with “Gabriel”, the spectral creature at the forefront his latest epic.But does this shadowy assassin have what it takes to join the ranks of Jigsaw, The Red Faced Man, Annabelle and The Nun in forcibly crapping the pants of a whole new audience?
Madison, a fragile, pregnant nurse with a forgotten childhood thinks that the worst she has to deal with is an abusive husband and a string of unexplained miscarriages – which, to be honest, is admittedly pretty awful – but things get exponentially more dangerous after an assault by a shadowy attacker leaves her morning yet another lost baby and her husband with a few less vertebrae in his neck.As Madison is comforted by her happy-go-lucky sister, she admits to her sibling that she was actually adopted and hopes to get back to something approaching a normal life after her traumatic experience. Yeah, good luck with that, Madison – because whoever this incredibly nimble murderer is, he’s isn’t finished, now by a long shot and the suffering woman finds she now shares a mental link with the maniac as she has horrifying visions of his brutal slayings. While a couple of detectives struggle to make head or tail of the bloody proceedings and Madison endures yet more mentally induced front row seats to vicious stabbings, she somehow remembers that the killer’s name is Gabriel after his voice torments her over the airwaves of various electrical appliances – but how can this be? What the hell happened in the mists of Madison’s childhood that would link her to a flailing limbed, lanky haired beserker that has a major weakness for stabbing people in the face? Is he a long lost brother? An imaginary friend come to life? Has Madison popped her sanity cap and gone on a rampage after one too many miscarriage?The origin behind Gabriel is something so deranged that no one could have possibly predicted (unless they’re well versed in fucked up 70’s/80’s horror films) and the carnage that he causes once his secret is out will cause more bloodletting than a hurricane in a butcher knife factory…
How you ultimately find Malignant depends on how willing you are to embrace the fact that Wan seems to have given up subtlety for lent and has crafted a truly deranged love letter to gonzo 80’s trash. Much like how Sam Raimi put his Spider-Man experience in the blockbuster big leagues to good use by funnelling what he learned into the majestically goofy Drag Me To Hell; James Wan has taken his big budget Aquaman credentials and gifted us probably the most batshit horror flick you’ll see on wide release this year. It definitely won’t appeal to everyone, however and those hoping for the measured frights of a Conjuring movie are going to be very surprised indeed as Malignant turns out to be a balls to the wall, everything but the kitchen sink slasher movie that also vacations extensively in the Giallo and body horror genres. In fact, while the filmmakers spray gore and shattered bone literally everywhere, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the garish, colour splashed style of Dario Argento or early Brian De Palma and the list of other films it tirelessly riffs on is virtually endless as it ropes together such diverse frighteners as The Eyes Of Laura Mars, Basket Case, A Nightmare On Elm Street and many, many more. Even the superpowered, double jointed, emo-maniac, Gabriel seems to have been crafted straight out of the Wes Craven’s How To Create A Horror Icon playbook, as the violent little fucker carries an eccentric weapon, communicates to people through their TVs and radios and has a backstory that takes in sinister experiments, gothic asylums and a twist/reveal that causes Wan to crack his knuckles, roll up his sleeves and get down to the business of giving us the most insane final thirty minutes of any movie you’re likely to see this year. While I’ll remain tight lipped about this most rambunctious wrap up I’ve seen in ages, know that it’s laying down a pretty extreme gauntlet for the upcoming Halloween Kills to pick up and a wild scene involving a Terminator/Maniac Cop 2 style massacre in a police station is going to take some beating.In the face of such a frenzied plot and some genuinely gorgeous camera work (some of Wan’s best), all the actors can do is dig their nails in and cling on for dear life and despite some amusingly cheesy line readings and a police detective who seems to be channeling Wanda Sykes for some reason, they all seem in on the joke, but extra praise needs to be heaped on lead Annabelle Wallis who bulges her eyes with fear from under a shaggy black wig that would surely make Shelly Duvall in the Shining proud.
To know too much is to dilute the ride, but needless to say I had a fucking blast with the film, but I’m dying to know how the hell the director got the bigwigs at Warners to bankroll something so gleefully out there – and trust me, Malignant gets pretty out there. In fact, for some it will undoubtedly be too out there as its throwback charms deliberately whip you into a frustrated frenzy while characters frequently tick all the boxes for all the dumb things people do and say in horror films. People check out strange noises, forget to lock their doors and never seem to flee for help, thus infuriating anyone not in on the joke; but anyone clued in on the fact that Wan is doing this deliberately to wind an audience up should simply buckle up and enjoy the zaniness. However some might also feel that bringing up themes of domestic abuse and miscarriages, only to discard them almost immediately once the horror stuff starts rolling may be in questionable taste and the film could easily stand to lose ten minutes or so, but if you embrace the weapons grade hokum and greet the crazy with open arms, you’ll be in for a fucking treat. Magnificent or maligned, Malignant definitely ma-lingers.