What is it that we want from a horror film? To be scared, of course. A good suspense film can do that, though. Hitchcock’s camera zooming in on a potentially fatal glass of milk, or the look on a man’s face as he dangles precariously from a national monument. Horror, once we move beyond mere blood, guts, and gore, requires something more refined. An original premise is helpful; clever cinematic panache doesn’t hurt; maybe a commentary on the human condition. The one thing that is crucial, however, is an internal logic that allows the story just enough plausibility to really get under our collective skin. Unless one is going strictly for laughs, and for that I refer you to either SLITHER or TREMORS or even both.
MALIGNANT, the subject at hand, is bloody, and while there are a few moments that may or may not be intentionally hilarious strewn throughout its running time, that we are forced to wonder about those intentions is the crux of the problem. Not to mention the peripheral issues surrounding this lackadaisical effort with sloppy writing, even sloppier plotting, and a blood bath of a climax that is nothing compared to the excruciating awfulness of the dénouement’s hyperbolically self-satisfied sense of righteousness.
No, I did not like it.
Directed with great style by James Wan, and based on a story he nurtured with co-star Ingrid Bisu and screenwriter Akela Cooper, its many flaws are magnified by a ham-handed score that may be attempting to drown out the insipid dialogue. Overhead camera angles track characters moving through the cliché of a spooky house where Maddie (Annabelle Wallis in full Angelina Jolie drag) is finally freed from her abusive husband (Jake Abel). That would be during a home invasion when his neck is twisted to such a degree that is causes the giddy CSI technician (Bisu) to gush over its grotesqueness almost as much as she gushes over the hunky detective on the case, Kekoa Shaw (George Young). He, of course, only has eyes for Maddie’s perky fledgling of a sister, Sidney (Madison Hasson), a development viewed with a baleful eye by his sardonic partner, Regina Moss (Michole Briana White in a superb performance of ironic detachment. Seriously, let’s do a spin-off with her and throw in Young for eye-candy).
The police originally suspect Maddie, despite the head wound her husband gave her when bashed her head against a wall, and the second trimester pregnancy, which she lost in the invasion. They turn their attentions elsewhere, though, when Maddie comes to them with a description of an unreported murder. Confirmation of that turns their attention to a goblin of a maniac on the loose, hidden in the shadows and by the long, matted hair and trendy leather duster he sports while lumbering through Seattle on a focused killing spree. Is Maddie off the hook? Not so much. It seems there is a psychic connection between them, making Maddie a virtual witness, and the police are bemused about the story she’s telling them about this connection to a killer she calls Gabriel.
Sure, it looks cool when reality slowly dissolves around Maddie, only to resolve itself at the scene of Gabriel’s latest crime. Sure, it’s adorable that he fashions his favorite weapon out of a conveniently shaped award with “excellence” written on it. Sure, Wan can make a standard kitchen blender quietly menacing. If only there were more to enjoy while leading to that ci-mentioned splatter porn and a painful riff on women-in-prison exploitation films.
If only all involved had dared to make this a deliberate, or at least more sharply defined, satire. What with so many of corny elements in place (did I mention the well-meaning doctors with dreams of doing the right thing?), and a performance by Wallis that is so earnest that is even more painful to watch than the chained heat riff, there would not have been much tweaking involved. And a better time would have been had by all.