The name James Wan appears all over “Malignant,” but it defies logic and reason that he actually directed this debacle.
Wan, the horror maestro behind “Insidious” and “The Conjuring,” is one of genre’s surest bets. So how could this clunker, bad from the very first seconds of screen time, spring from his imagination?
We need more proof. Eyewitness accounts. Sworn affidavits. This critic saw a few stills of Wan on the “Malignant” set from the studio, but you know what Photo Shop can do, right?
Cue the conspiracy theorists!
The only saving grace for “Malignant?” The third act is so gonzo it could emerge as a cult classic. For now, it’s just an awful film.
Annabelle Wallis (“Peaky Blinders”) stars as Maddie, a pregnant woman whose beau came from Bad Husbands “R” Us. The couple endures a savage attack one night in their house, leaving her a widow.
Did Maddie dream up the shadowy intruder who entered their home, or did some unnatural presence take her husband from her? And might it connect to the comically inept prologue set in the 1990s? Either way, it’s the first in a series of grisly murders she sees in her sleep but turn out to be reality.
Where do we even start?
That prologue feels like it was stitched together by someone who saw a lot of horror movies but has no clue how to actually make one. The tone is campy, amateurish even.
From there, Wallis’ performance is a twitchy trainwreck, and she never emerges as anything close to a compelling character. The officers investigating the killings are similarly one note, with one making goo-goo eyes at Maddie’s sister (Maddie Hasson) at the most inappropriate moments.
And then there are the kill scenes, which assume a stale formula in record time. The film’s mysteries are laid out, mostly thanks to obvious VHS confessionals, until even Mr. Magoo can solve the puzzle.
All but one puzzle piece, that is.
It’s so cuckoo, and arguably cool, that it turns the third act into something worth watching. We’re suddenly in “Re-Animator” territory, the film’s flirtation with campy ’80s fare complete.
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Place part of the blame at Akela Cooper’s feet. Her script is a collection of tropes that feel like a rushed first draft. Save the rest for Wan, who over directs every scene as if trying to out hustle the last.
His camera whirls and spins, employing a crush of curious angles and distortions which do nothing to win us over or elicit frights.
And then there’s Joseph Bishara’s score. Hoo boy, this is one for the ages, an overwrought cacophony that pushes even the early scenes into the camp category. Too bad everyone is playing the story as straight as Leslie Nielsen in “Airplane!”
“Malignant” has the cheap feel of a Netflix original, the kind you stumble upon and almost instantly regret streaming. If Wan did anything right here it’s in how every element fails in spectacular fashion.
One key character is shown in flashback and, later, in modern times. She hasn’t aged a year despite the nearly three decades that passed. Another howler? A cop’s sketch of the potential murderer looks like he painted Cousin Itt on a bender (this one must be seen to be believed).
The best, and by “best” we mean worst? Another sketch guru takes a fuzzy picture of a child and imagines what that face would look like as a grown up. If you guessed, “she’ll look exactly like one of the actresses in the movie!” give yourself a gold star.
There’s a reason “Malignant” debuted with little buzz or fanfare. It’s a cinch for many Worst of 2021 lists. It may top this critic’s version come December.
HiT or Miss: Stay far, far away from “Malignant,” proof that even great horror directors are capable of seismic flops.