“Malignant” is a terrifying yet terrible horror movie. Director James Wan creates a bone-chilling, blood-curdling atmosphere in his latest film, but he spoils it with cliche dialogue and laughable acting.
During a flashback, Dr. Florence Weaver and her colleagues — giving comically over-the-top performances — try to keep a psychiatric patient named Gabriel under control. “Malignant” is a horror movie, so they fail miserably. Gabriel violently murders everyone he can get his hands on before Dr. Weaver fires a tranquilizer dart in the darkness and strikes her target.
While the performances are silly in the opening scene, Gabriel’s creature design is no laughing matter. He is part “The Thing” organism, part “The Exorcist” demon, and part Hannibal Lecter victim, and his frightening face will remain with the timidest audience members long after the credits roll.
Gabriel, thankfully, isn’t on display the whole movie because the focus is on Madison — played by Annabelle Wallis of 2017’s “The Mummy” — a woman Gabriel terrorizes. It’s safe to say, though, that her life wasn’t that great before Gabriel arrived.
Madison’s husband, played by Jake Abel, verbally abuses her by telling her that he’s getting sick of her losing their unborn children to miscarriages. So, he’s the worst kind of human. Then he slams her against a wall, and that’s the end of any sense of normalcy. All hell breaks loose around Madison, and Gabriel forces her to confront a disturbing past.
Wan tortures Madison and his audience with his classic brand of jump scares at the start of the film. But when faulty light bulbs aren’t doing the trick anymore, he reveals his movie’s monster without interference. Couple these reveals with brutal murders that might make Jigsaw avert his eyes, and you’ve got a lethal horror combination.
As the body count rises, Wan has fun playing in his bonkers horror playground. The twists become more ridiculous, and the director of DC’s “Aquaman” masterminds some bizarre action sequences. Opposite the action and horror are dully written scenes featuring the violent crimes unit on the hunt for Gabriel.
The bland unit consists of Kekoa Shaw, a handsome hotshot detective who has eyes on the case and Madison’s sister; Regina Moss, his no-nonsense partner; and Winnie, the worst character of the movie who doesn’t understand that a bloody crime scene isn’t the best location to flirt. Shockingly, Ingrid Bisu — the actress who plays Winnie — wrote the film with Wan and Akela Cooper. You would have thought she’d write something better for herself.
With “Malignant,” Wan created one of the most terrifying on-screen villains and capitalized on all the skills he’s gained in the last decade to make a wild but inconsistent ride. James Wan’s “Malignant” is a great horror movie infected by poor choices.