James Wan’s horror empire has become a crown jewel of Warner Bros’ extensive collection. His massive creative and financial success in the Insidious and Conjuring franchises earned Wan the opportunity to direct a slew of mega-blockbuster projects, leaving his trademark horror franchise to new talent while keeping an eye on it as a producer. Malignant represents Wan’s return to the horror genre, and the result is a wildly entertaining departure from his usual fare.
Malignant follows Madison (Annabelle Wallace), a woman experiencing visions of a mysterious killer. That’s the most I can comfortably summarize this film without ruining it because the best part of the film, by far, is its relentless insanity and unwavering devotion to its absurd yet wildly entertaining mystery.
Wan’s thesis statement is if a 70s/80s campy horror film were made in 2021. Writer Akela Cooper created a mystery designed to replicate the campy stereotypes of B-level slasher flicks with the polished directing of a professional Hollywood blockbuster. Cooper’s love of horror cult classics heavily inspired Malignant, the perfect space for the film to operate.
Every element of the film exists to recreate the magic of a forgotten genre. The characters, story, dialogue, and more are all crafted to create an intentionally insane yet avidly enjoyable mystery. In the opening moments of the film, it just feels like a bad movie filled with tired cliches and absurd plot points, but once the film (and the viewer) embraces these tropes, it’s a wacky thrill ride full of spectacle and gore that recreates the magic of campy horror classics.
In this sense, the closest approximation possible is Cabin in the Woods (2011), but instead of serving as a commentary on the genre’s tropes, it embraces them and recreates its magic with a modern flare. The concept is a massive detour from Wan’s usual work, making the creative choices initially seem like a misfire. Still, when put into context, Malignant is a wildly entertaining film that horror aficionados will appreciate for years to come.
So, the ultimate question now becomes: Will I enjoy Malignant? The answer, like the film itself, is not so straightforward. If you enjoy campy horror classics like Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, or Killer Klowns from Outer Space, then this movie is right up your alley. But ultimately, if you cannot appreciate the value of pure, illogical, shock and awe entertainment, then Malignant is not the film for you.
Malignant will surely join the long list of divisive horror films in recent memory. Still, unlike other current members of that club Hereditary, Mother, and Us, Malignant appreciates the value of pure, campy entertainment and does not try to achieve a higher purpose.
Filmnetic Grade: A