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Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist

Did you know the ‘Malignant’ poster’s tagline is “A New Vision of Terror”? Let’s just say that James Wan’s latest film is out of the usual and even rescues most of the film’s flaws (more on that later) from being an outright disaster. It’s simply that getting to the out-of-the-ordinary moments takes some perseverance. And the in question moments occur during the go-for-broke third act, which I won’t ruin for you here. All I can say is that it’s bats*** crazy, bloody-as-hell violent and gory, and Wan clearly has a field day embracing the outlandish storyline, which he created with his wife Ingrid Bisu (2018’s ‘The Nun’ and this year’s ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’) and Akela Cooper (TV’s ‘Grimm,’ ‘American Horror Story’).

I’ll let you figure out what that bizarre section is for yourself. Here’s what you need know about the film’s plot: ‘Malignant’ follows Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a heavily pregnant woman who must put up with her turbulent and abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel). She has already had multiple miscarriages, and if that isn’t terrible enough, her husband becomes so angry at one point that she hits the back of her head against the wall.

To cut a long story short, her husband is murdered, and she awakens in a hospital. Soon after, she begins to have a series of terrifying visions involving a demonic person named Gabriel. He would end up murdering his chosen victims in the most heinous way possible, and Madison has a strange telepathic connection with Gabriel. Complicating matters are the two police investigators, Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), who believe Madison is the serial killer orchestrating all of this mayhem. And what precisely does Gabriel want from Madison to the point where he enjoys tormenting her?

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James Wan, who chose ‘Malignant’ over ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ takes his time laying out his tale. It moves slowly at initially, and the film’s nearly two-hour duration could have used a faster pace. Wan even attempts to spice things up by combining several horror-film cliches ranging from Dario Argento’s giallo-like visual style (including the Italian genre meister’s ‘Suspiria’) to a few cinematic cues from David Cronenberg’s body horrors and Brian De Palma’s early horror films.

Fans of the ‘The Conjuring’ franchise will recognize Wan’s regular bag of tactics when it comes to dealing with supernatural themes, particularly the film’s home invasion-style scenario. The film also features inventive camera work (at one point, there’s a brief but fascinating tracking shot from the house’s roof point-of-view) and Joseph Bishara’s usual captivating score.

As much as I admire Wan’s ambition in paying respect to some well-known genre specialists, the overall jumble is a hit-or-miss affair. Wan’s misses could be attributed to him taking the situation a little too seriously. It would have worked better if he had really embraced his plot in a joyous, self-aware manner. Perhaps something like to how the late Wes Craven ironically turned the otherwise done-to-death slasher film inside out in the ‘Scream’ franchise.

The film also falls short in terms of character development and all of the emotional beats required to be immersed in them. It’s a shame, because Annabelle Wallis, who previously appeared in 2014’s ‘Annabelle’ and 2017’s ‘Annabelle: Creation,’ does a good job portraying Madison’s increasingly paranoid state. However, she is written as a surface-level character, as are her co-stars, including Maddie Hasson, who plays her blonde-haired sister Sydney Lake, as well as George Young and Michole Briana White. Ingrid Bisu, who appears in a supporting part as a geeky forensic officer, appears to be more in tune with the film’s outlandish storytelling approach.

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Back to the third act, this is where Wan genuinely shines and is one of the only reasons I stayed to the finish. Elsewhere, he doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting extreme violence and gore on show. The debut of the black cloak-wearing Gabriel is one of Wan’s most memorable horror adversaries since the Jigsaw Killer in 2004’s ‘Saw,’ which made the then-unknown Australian director a household name.

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Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist
Malignant Review: Is Saved by an Outlandish Third Act Twist

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