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‘Malignant’: A glorious rollercoaster of camp and carnage

‘Malignant’: A glorious rollercoaster of camp and carnage

‘Malignant’: A glorious rollercoaster of camp and carnage
September 17
12:27 2021

“It’s time we cut out the cancer.”

In 1993, doctors and security guards frantically work to restrain a super strong, nigh unstoppable killer called Gabriel. Decades later, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) has just survived an encounter with her abusive husband, only to find him brutally murdered the next morning. Soon, she starts seeing visions of a leather-clad killer eviscerate members of the hospital she grew up in. Has Gabriel come back? 

Three years ago, James Wan made “Aquaman,” a truly gonzo superhero epic that grossed over a billion at the box office. A sequel is currently underway, but between these two projects, Wan chose to make “Malignant,” a relatively more modestly-budgeted horror flick returning to his roots. The main man behind “Saw,” the first two “Insidious” and “Conjuringmovies, it looked like Wan was set to deliver another chiller closer to his earlier work. 

Except, not really. The line opening this review? The actress says this after witnessing a young Gabriel break a dude’s arm and expose bone right after ragdolling another, bigger security guard. She also refers to this insanely strong, deformed killing machine as “a very bad boy” with just enough bombast contrasted against seriousness before announcing it’s time to “cut out the cancer.”

Cue the intro and heavy rock music by composer Joseph Bishara

While Wan may have returned to his desaturated colors, ultraviolence and modern gothic aesthetic, he basically carries over the tone from “Aquaman” and “Furious 7.” Instead of a straight supernatural drama or grim psychological thriller, “Malignant” is just straight-up bonkers. 

First, the acting is very much tongue-in-cheek, but not in a smug way. Leading actress Wallis plays her material entirely straight, playing a trauma survivor almost exactly how she would in a serious role. There’s a layer of melodrama and camp to her performance, but she never lets on to “Malignant’s” pretty ridiculous reality. 

The supporting cast also holds up the movie’s campy feel. Maddie Hasson plays Sydney, Madison’s sister, and she gets to provide some moments of levity. Again, she doesn’t really wink to the camera except for maybe one moment that gets hilariously shot down by another character. As the snarky leading detectives, George Young and Michole Briana White get to do some ‘90s, post-Se7en investigating, and everyone as a whole knows what to do and keep straight faces.

Then there’s Gabriel himself. Voice actor Ray Chase gives him this guttural voice, while contortionist Marina Mazepa does most of the bodywork. Due to Gabriel actually moving backward, she gives his movement a very unsettling edge in how his limbs break and twist to just move around. Combined with his lanky appearance, very unique weapon of choice and incredibly distinctive movement, Gabriel is bound to become a new horror icon. 

The movie is also the best kind of camp — the kind that doesn’t constantly need to wink at the audience to let them know the filmmakers are in on the joke. Aside from maybe one or two winks, the movie firmly keeps the characters within its own wild reality, and with them the audience. “Malignant” isn’t afraid to be cheesy while avoiding smugness. It’s fully confident in what it is: a ludicrously fun throwback to over-the-top horror movies.

This all comes into focus with the third-act twist. No spoilers, obviously. However, it will make or break the movie for most. Yes, it is fully ridiculous, but clearly in the way Wan intended. The movie itself takes time setting it up in ways that aren’t apparent in the first watch. “Malignant” doesn’t just settle for being silly, it puts in all the effort to make that silliness work. Within the movie’s very absurd logic, it does hold up. It’s actually kind of funny how much is telegraphed, yet slips by until the big reveal comes.

Speaking of which, the third-act climax is not just a big reveal — it’s a great action sequence. Again, no spoilers, but Wan takes the propulsive energy he brought to “Aquaman” and fully integrates it into the horror. It’s an incredible scene and just mind-blowing in how much effort it must have taken to achieve. Wan is a mad genius for this alone. 

“Malignant” is high-class, high-violence camp. Its tongue is firmly in its cheek, the plot embodies the best kind of soap opera and every single aspect of the movie is dedicated to servicing Wan’s extravagant concoction of old slasher movies, his horror roots and recent blockbuster output. As insane it as sounds, it works. 

Will’s final rating: 3.75/5

Image source Warner Bros.

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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