Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.
Having created the “Saw” and “Conjuring” franchises as well as directed entries in the “Fast and Furious” and “Aquaman” series, James Wan has become a genre director of note. His efforts have generated billions of dollars of revenue for Warner Brothers and as a result, he’s been allowed a certain amount of latitude where making his own films are concerned. To say that he’s taken advantage of this enviable position by making is latest, “Malignant,” is an understatement of the highest order. Having proven himself again and again at the box office, I can think of no other circumstances when a major studio would back such a…unique movie.
Ludicrous in execution and story, this extreme horror film owes a debt not only to the exploitation gorefests of Herschell Gordon Lewis, but the infamous Italian Giallo movies as well. Overwrought in the best of ways, Wan revels in pushing everything – the narrative, its violence, its distinctive visuals – to extremes, so much so that the studio did not screen it in advance for critics. Once you see it, you’ll understand why.
Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a troubled young woman who has visions of gruesome murders see thinks are dreams. Shockingly, she finds out they are actually occurring. How and why this is happening is revealed slowly, but we do find out Madison was adopted and as a child had an imaginary friend named Gabriel. Meanwhile, a pattern emerges connecting the slayings she’s been witnessing in her fugue state. Seems the victims were all doctors at the Simion Research Hospital, an institution that’s been abandoned for years. And what does all this have to do with the kidnapping of a tour guide by an incredibly acrobatic, shadowy figure?
The pieces do all come together but it requires a bit of patience. Wan makes us sit through three gruesome killings before any answers begin to emerge and while these scenes are visually striking, the story stands still as Wan blatantly shows us all the tricks up his sleeve.
To be sure, the movie is never less than striking and much of the fun comes from drinking in the filmmaker’s elaborate compositions. Wan has always applied atmosphere with a trowel and makes no apologies. The research hospital where many key events occur is an industrial, gothic monstrosity that exudes dread, begging for an extensive photo spread in the “Architectural Digest,” while the Victorian where Madison lives and the underground passages of the city are no less sinister. Every location is suffused with cool blue shadows and hundred of cubic yards of fog (no one gets more mileage out of a fog machine than Wan). These locations are combined with digital effects which bleed and melt away to reveal a new setting whenever Madison goes into a trance, creating a distinct aesthetic that begs to be dissected and analyzed.
I think I can safely say you won’t be able to predict just who the killer is or why Madison is having her deadly visions. It’s out there…I mean, out there, which is part of the fun. You can’t help but chuckle at how audacious the entire production is, the filmmaker splattering blood by the gallons, pushing reason to the breaking point, eschewing the existence of tripods, his camera swooping and spinning at every turn. Need I mention the jarring sharp musical notes used to shock us, as if the visuals won’t? To be sure, it’s overkill and with “Malignant,” Wan seems intent on finding out just how much the viewer can take and how much he can get away with.