FILM REVIEW: James Wan’s New Film “Malignant” Is Benign At Best

Conor Merrick | Editor-in-Chief |

Image: Still from Movie “Malignant”

The overall quality of horror movies and their originality has been on a sharp decline for years and “Malignant” which came out Sept. 10, is no exception. 

Aside from the occasional standouts like Ari Aster’s films “Hereditary” and “Midsommar”, horror fans have been putting up with tacky, recycled tropes and uninspiring plotlines for a while now. Horror has become formulaic and few have been brave enough to try and break it. On the other hand, breaking through the established horror formula is a challenge of its own.

There’s something safe about writing a story involving a group of teens who have to face a monster but that’s not to say good movies within the formula can’t be made. Stephen King’s remake of “IT” is a fair reminder that the existing tropes can be great and entertaining. The movie is certainly a horror but lends itself more to a mystery and focuses more on entertainment than spooking the audience. It’s not very scary but it’s a fun movie to watch and was well received, grabbing a rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Malignant”, on the other hand, reminds me more of “The Bye Bye Man”, a horror film poorly received by critics and audiences that takes itself way too seriously and relies heavily on outdated techniques, failing to capture what scares people nowadays. “IT” was successful because of its emphasis on nostalgia and coming-of-age style storytelling. “Bye Bye Man” and “Malignant” failed because they used an exhausted style of storytelling. 

The plot of “Malignant” is a tired one. Maddie (Annabelle Wallis), a woman with an abusive husband, Derek (Jake Abel), starts to experience supernatural things after a fight where Maddie hits the back of her head.

She starts having dreams of people being murdered only to find out they’re not just dreams. I’m not trying to spoil anything but that info alone might be enough for you to piece together what happens next. The plot-twist is easy to see coming and the build-up to it is long, boring and disappointing overall. A majority of the movie involves Maddie and her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) sifting through old tapes and records, trying to discover the killer’s connection to her forgotten past. The journey takes the sisters to, you guessed it, an abandoned psychiatric hospital where Sydney is forced into the dark, dusty basement to find Maddie’s records. 

As a fan of James Wan, I expected a lot more from him. Films like “The Conjuring”, “Insidious” and “Saw” have left indelible impressions on the horror genre and after a 5 year hiatus, I expected brilliance. What I got was a slow, boring plot with some unique cinematography to compensate. The actor’s performance wasn’t believable and compromises the suspense of disbelief necessary for the success of a horror film.

Even in the film’s trailer, Wan promises to offer something new with his movie.

“You gotta take chances otherwise you end up making the same old thing again and again and again,” Wan said during the the movie trailer. I hate to be the bearer of bad news James Wan but that’s exactly what you did.

Trailer #2 for “Malignant”

Wan’s films have never exactly been known for the actor’s outstanding performances however and usually find more success on the visual front. Wan uses the same dollhouse concept to film a chase scene that Ari Aster uses in “Hereditary” but even then, some of the best cinematography in the film is more of a shoutout than an original concept.

Dollhouse Style Scene from “Malignant”

 It’s forgettable, predictable and tonally confusing. 

Wan still managed a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes but had it been up to me, this one would be certified rotten.

“Malignant” can be viewed on HBOMax and in select theatres.