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Malignant (2021)—Are you sure this was not directed by M. Night Shyamalan?

Before his box office hit Aquaman (2018), Director James Wan was best known for his work in the horror genre, directing great films such as The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious (2010). After his success on Aquaman (2018), James Wan returned back to his horror roots with this little project with New Line Cinema.

The film opens up in 1993, at a mental asylum. Dr. Florence Weaver along with two other doctors are treating Gabriel, a patient with supernatural abilities to affect electricity and broadcast his thoughts over phones and radios. After several nurses and security guards are killed, the doctors manage to incapacitate him. Cut to present day Seattle, a pregnant woman named Madison comes home from work to her abusive boyfriend. The two argue over her pregnancy, with the argument coming to an end when he smashes her head against the wall. That night, a demonic entity kills the boyfriend before knocking out Madison. She wakes up in the hospital the next day and realizes that she had a miscarriage. Police are called to investigate the crime at Madison’s house. Initially, they think that Madison is the killer since she had a motive to kill and that there were no signs of forced entrance. When Madison recovers and returns home, the entity goes to kill its next targets: Dr. Weaver and her team.

Just an everyday kidnapping!

One thing I appreciate in James Wan’s films is how he transforms the camera into a character. Every shot in the film exists for a reason. To create tension, Wan would use tracking shots to either follow the character into a room or hallway, or use the shots to mimic the monster chasing the victim. While I did have initial complaints about Wan’s almost excessive use of Dutch angles, they work in this film, due to Wan wanting to build up tension before the action begins. The production value is fairly impressive. I was really creeped out when I saw Gabriel’s bloody and mutilated face, and the way he moved was a unique blend of human and inhuman; while he walks and jumps like a human, both the fluidity and style of movement make him appear unnatural.

Despite the film having a strong technical production, the film’s story was lacking. The first act was arguably the film’s strongest act; the opening scene at the hospital reminded me of the hospital scene in Akira (1995), where Tetsuo tried to escape the government’s clutches using his newly-acquired powers. However, the film quickly falls apart in the middle of the second and third act. And the big twist? Gabriel is Madison’s evil twin brother who grew on the backside of her body as some sort of tumor who’s been hijacking her body to commit his various murders. The twist’s removes the horror element of the film and instead makes you scratch your head in confusion.

That's actually pretty creepy

Another point I’d like to make is that even though the film is set in modern times, Madison somehow lives in a house that looks like it was built in the 1970s. It’s almost as if James Wan needs an anachronistic setting in order to add to the horror element, which he really doesn’t need. Do I think this film is awful? No. However, it doesn’t bring anything new to the horror genre and overall is very average at best, and nonsensical at worst.

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