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"MALIGNANT"
(2021) (Annabelle Wallis, George Young) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Along with troubling revelations about her past, a woman must contend with terrifying visions that turn out to be true.
PLOT:

Madison Mitchell (ANNABELLE WALLIS) is a woman who's hoping that her latest pregnancy makes it to full term. Unfortunately for her, her husband, Derek (JAKE ABEL), isn't very nice, and he bashes her head back against a wall, all of which results in some sinister figure killing him. That's a relief to Madison's sister, Sydney Lake (MADDIE HASSON), but it does draw the attention of detectives Kekoa Shaw (GEORGE YOUNG) and Regina Moss (MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE) who view her as the "battered wife" suspect.

Things become more complicated when Madison has a vision of a murder that actually takes place in real life, all revolving around past experiments and medical procedures performed on some sort of creature. It, or perhaps its spirit, makes itself known to Madison as Gabriel and it's not long before more bodies start piling up. As Sydney and the detectives try to dig through the past to come up with answers about what's happening in the present, Madison finds herself questioning her sanity and whether something supernatural might be terrorizing her and killing others.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

There's an unwritten rule in comedy that if you must explain a joke in order for the audience to understand it, you've failed since the laughter is supposed to come naturally and immediately rather than intellectually and after the fact. Granted, sometimes having that happen isn't a complete disaster, but it nevertheless lessens the impact of the effort.

The same can be said about trying to scare someone entertainingly. Just like the punchline of a joke should have material leading up to it, the same holds true for spooking people. And most horror films get that regarding jump scene scares where there's a noise in the dark or dimly lit environs and a person slowly goes looking for the cause.

In the same vein as comedy, though, those moments and the overall films in which they appear should operate on a gut level, instinctual response. If you have to explain things in the third act, that might tie everything up -- and thus work on a hindsight-based intellectual level, the impact is lessened in the moment.

Such is the case with "Malignant," the latest horror film from director James Wan (the first two "Conjuring" movies, among others). After a pre-credits prologue from the past that revolves around some sort of creature that's violent and can affect electricity and such, the story introduces us to Annabelle Wallis who plays Madison Mitchell, who hopes her latest pregnancy will result in her first child with her husband Derek (Jake Abel). But he's not a nice guy and when he bashes her head against a wall, that unleashes a sinister figure that quickly cuts short his screen time.

All of which brings some relief to her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), who isn't sad to see him out of the picture, as well as detectives Kakoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) who cast a wary eye, what with the yet to be finalized evidence pointing to her as the most likely perp. Things become complicated when Madison witnesses a stranger -- who just so happened to be the central figure of that prologue -- similarly bite the dust, things become more complicated for all involved.

I can't say much more without giving away the big twist -- and it's a doozy -- but can state that up until that point I found myself bored at times, occasionally confused by what seemed like bad editing or directorial decisions, rolling my eyes at more than one occasion, and not terribly scared as Wan -- who also wrote the screenplay -- simply seemed to be recycling material we've seen him and others do before in trying to get under our skin and raise some goosebumps. Yet, once the big reveal occurs, everything makes sense.

That doesn't erase the sins of boring, confusing, and not particularly scaring me, but it makes me appreciate more about what the filmmaker was going for. From a purely intellectual angle, I sort of dig the explanation from a "Yikes, that's so sick it's sort of cool" horror standpoint. But just like explaining a joke steals most of its thunder, having to explain and show the inner workings of the plot does the same for a horror film as a whole. And thus "Malignant" scores just a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 10, 2021 / Posted September 10, 2021


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