James Wan is no stranger to the world of horror. The Australian filmmaker burst onto the genre scene in 2004 alongside film school buddy Leigh Whannell with the iconic Saw. Since then, Wan has returned to horror time and time again, and whilst Dead Silence didn’t spark the imagination of many, Insidious launched a modern horror franchise, and The Conjuring birthed a universe. After that, Wan made the switch to action and directed Fast 7 before jumping aboard the DC train and making a billion dollar splash with Aquaman. With these two epic blockbusters under his belt Wan, just like Michael Myers each Halloween, has come home.
His return to the horror fold, Malignant, is unlike anything that we have seen from him before. The film, which is now playing in cinemas across the United Kingdom, was kept locked away ahead of its release, with no previews to audiences or press. A move like this isn’t uncommon, and typically points to a film that the studio doesn’t have much faith in. That couldn’t be further from the truth with Malignant however, the official word being that Warner Bros didn’t want to risk any spoilers about this very unique film getting out and ruining viewing experiences. In light of having now seen Malignant, I can attest that this is definitely a film you don’t want spoiling. Malignant goes to some places that I’m still processing a day later, and in order to try and preserve as many of Wan’s secrets as possible, this review is going to keep firmly away from spoiler territory.
If you have caught the trailer, you’re likely thinking you have Malignant dead to rights, but you couldn’t be further from the reality, as Wan spins an ever expanding tale of gore, violence, and dread-soaked action. To distill the plot down to its very topline, Malignant tells the story of Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who, after beginning to have visions of a series of brutal murders, joins forces with the police to track the killer down. Lead Annabelle Wallis is no stranger to one of Wan’s universe’s, having previously starred in the first Conjuring spin-off, Annabelle. In that film, all Wallis really had to do was be pregnant and afraid. This time she has a more complex character to play. Wan and co-writers Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper, chuck Madison through an epic emotional gauntlet. There’s also a lot of physicality to the role, with Wallis’ time on the disastrous The Mummy coming in handy for the more active portions of the movie.
Outside of Wallis there is great support from Maddie Hasson as Madison’s sister, and George Young and Michole Briana White who play the detectives investigating the murders. White’s character of Moss gives great early Pam Grier vibes, whereas Young is a mix of several of Wan’s previous law enforcing heroes. All of them blend wonderfully to create a story that is populated with interesting and engaging characters, all of whom could easily lead the film were it to be approached from other angles.
For the score, Wan reunites with regular collaborator Joseph Bishara, the composer once again knocking it out of the park. Bishara is responsible for creating those heart-stopping strings found in Insidious as well as the haunting work in the Conjuring films. The score created for Malignant moves away from what we might expect of the composer. A mixture of sinister synth compositions and pieces constructed from industrial noises that feel like an assault to the senses, the Malignant score shows yet another string to Bishara’s bow. Not to be outdone, cinematographer Michael Burgess and Wan have worked together to create some epic visuals. There’s a great overhead sequence that follows Madison around her house that adds some early sparkle, with a later scene potentially offering up the horror world’s variation of that Point Break chase. Unfortunately, the real eye-popping moments cannot be spoken about, but they will have you on the edge of your seats and leave you with a breathlessly manic grin on your face.
Wan’s return to directing horror is a true triumph of originality. It’s almost certainly the goriest project that he has directed, and yes that does include Saw. It is also his most insane project. Wan takes Malignant to spaces that most could never dream of and demonstrates great faith from Warner Bros as Wan ventures very far off of the mainstream horror path. True fans of genre cinema are going to be gleefully delighted by this concoction of extreme violence, genuine chills, and epic thrills.
A triumphant return to the genre that made Wan a household name, Malignant is the ultimate example of horror insanity. Unlike anything mainstream cinema goers will have experienced before, Malignant presents some of the best fun you’ll have in theatres this year.
Malignant is available rent on Premium Video on Demand from 11th October.
This review first appeared on THN.