Malignant ★★★★★

I like to think we’ve reached the end of a discourse era. I’m optimistic. For at least the past decade it’s been impossible to talk about horror without someone—always someone without much abiding love for horror in the first place—telling you that good horror is subtle and quiet. Good horror is about atmosphere. They’d tell you that jump scares are alright…but no more than one or two.
Prestige horror had its moment, and is certainly still having it. Horror that is Mom and Dad approved because it’s about Themes.
Don’t cry for horror. It’s always been on the outs. That’s where it comfortably thrives. The best advice is to stay light on your feet if you don’t want to end up just another figure in the establishment. I’ve always loved an underdog and horror is the most consistently persevering underdog out there. You can’t stem the tide.
Unsophisticated horror cannot be killed. Horror for the people. People who don’t want to see just another gifset of beautiful vistas.
Malignant is bombastic. It feels like Wan’s been wearing the Rock Lee ankle weights and he took them off and made Malignant.
“There’s only so many PG-13 movies I can make before I get bored…” Wan said. “I miss my Saw days.” And it feels like a movie from a director who’s been sitting in the bullpen.
Can I take an aside? Have you noticed the rhetorical shift with Saw? Once upon a time comparing a movie to Saw was as scathing as you could be. Now, I see people bring up the Saw franchise with the same contempt…but the first Saw is pretty good, they’ll qualify. They note that it’s virtually bloodless, Whannell and Elwes have chemistry. The tide ebbs and flows. Horror’s reputation lives and dies on its own terms.
Malignant is hard to talk about because it feels so self-evident. Like a lot of the prestige horror that has been dominating conversations, it owes a lot to Giallo. But unlike those same horror movies, it doesn’t feel like it’s standing over your shoulder making sure you wrote that part down. Instead it’s at its most Giallo when protagonist Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is held captive in visions of a demonic presence named Gabriel. The scenes are stylized and affected in a way that emphasizes her lack of control. The camera movement and her terrified expression make you feel just as pinned down as she is. You’re an observer in her hellish sleep paralysis.
I kept having this thought while I was watching Malignant: this movie is comfortable with cliche. A cute bespectacled crime scene technician has a crush on the hot detective. The hot detective’s brassy partner rolls her eyes. And why shouldn’t it play out like this? Malignant feels so comfortable in these moments when I compare it to the Candyman remake. When watching Candyman 21 I was struck by a different thought: this movie is so uncomfortable with cliche that it can’t stop taking its own feet out from under itself.
I glanced through other reviews of Malignant and I was sad. Malignant offers itself up with no apologies. It’s not a bitter sort of confidence though, not based in any contempt for critics who hated Saw or hated the Conjuring movies. Still, I saw a lot of reviews call Malignant stupid but fun. I saw a lot of people, in as many words, calling Malignant ‘so bad it’s good.’
Sometimes I hate that sort of thing. I think it can betray a real lack of imagination. I think it can reflect an inability to overcome your own insecurities.
Which is not to say that the entirety of the sentiment is wrong! I’ve talked to people who enjoyed it as much as me. I hear people say that (like me!) they were making noise in the theater! I was alone except for one other couple. There was no theater anonymity for me. I was gasping. I was sucking in air. I actually said, out loud, “no way!” Malignant is a lot of fun. And it has a confidence that’s hard to process. I think a lot of people have had their ability to enjoy horror blunted.

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