Ewan Gleadow’s review published on Letterboxd:
The promise of greatness and eventual mixed feeling stings far more than an average film doing poorly. Audiences have no expectations for those that are run of the mill, right down the middle features. They are either dismissive or pleasantly surprised. For Malignant, that is not possible. It must take the budget and run as far as it can. Pray that it works. James Wan has done it once before, why not again? SAW was a great innovator for its time, and Wan now returns to his roots after so much time in the wilderness of comic book adaptations and The Conjuring franchise. Horror has never left his hand, but his quality has. He hopes to rekindle that with Malignant, the “new vision of terror,” the tagline dares to boast.
Wan’s latest observation of fear is very similar to the other humdrum entries into the horror genre of the past two decades. Sobering it may be to see little has changed for the mainstream of the genre in the past twenty years, it is unfortunate and particularly dull. Those few sparks of unique quality are founded on the underlining fears. Hypnotherapists here, buzzing noises there, Malignant has something stylish within it. But those moments are a fallacy. They are drowned out by moments of conventional tact. Necessary observations that Wan has popularised and subsequently filtered down into the bare and boring essentials. They may be necessary, but it does not bring any value to the plot or the characters within.
But there is little to them to begin with. Annabelle Wallis’ work is a barebones character construct but a strong performance. She hits the notes of all the usual horror pangs and tries hard to sell the new additions to this script. Wan, to his credit, has all the tools at his disposal. Where Malignant works is in the illuminating horrors and the charming little effects that never crop up as more than distractions. Wan still knows how to play tricks on the mind, but he depends far too often on the bumps in the night and the jumpscare frights that so frequently linger on the modern horror feature. It is the harsh balance between Saint Maud and its artistic indifference to grand themes and the SAWs brand of brutality and meaninglessness that Malignant straddles, and forgettably so.
There are nasty elements to Malignant that never align quite right. Pockets of strong writing or decent characterisations of the horror elements of days gone by, and the modernity that crashes through it all. If anything, Wan has crafted a frustrating experience. It is something that relies on the conventional aspects of the modern horror genre and the fans that have fallen from the woodwork. Avoid them like the plague. Return to the comforting embrace of SAW and all the silliness that comes with it. This modern pop value of horror is an inconsistent one, and the jumpscares wane ever thinner with Malignant, a promising but ineffective horror that has enough bite to push through the swathe of disgustingly poor quality found elsewhere in the genre.
If you liked this review, you can read more of my work on my website, Cult Following.