3 Stars out of 5. But…don’t take this as an endorsement. This movie is bad. And it’s good. It’s both and neither. One of those stars is simply for the innovative movement of the main villain. More on that below.
If you are a casual watcher of horror films? You probably will not care for this film at all. It will seem “weird” or “strange”.
If you are a horror film FAN…you will get some enjoyment out of it.
My friend Doris called it “old school horror”, and frankly thats what it feels like. And I think James Wan and the other creators wanted it that way. The story, pacing and acting recall some of the Charles Band helmed movies from Full Moon features, like “Subspecies”, “Dolls” or “Puppet Master”. And it very equally draws some of it’s DNA from Gordon and Yuzna’s “Reanimator” series. EVen the prologue plays a bit like “Creepshow” (1982) with its comic book lighting and too on the nose acting and pacing.
I’ve seen reviews that compare this to Argento and Bava, one reviewer going as far as calling it “the best Argento film since Argento films”, and I can’t argue with that. There is quite a lot of feeling from the giallo realm in this, very “Suspiria” or “Bird With The Crystal Plumage” in both the lighting, camera work and gore. I think where this differs from the Italian masters is in the pacing. Argento liked to build a sense of dread that you couldn’t quite place, before punching you in the face with fear…this movie starts there and barely lets up.
There is a “twist” to this film, but, it’s not all that hard to figure out. I suspected it during the opening credits (watch the animated letters), and it was confirmed to me around minute 00.39.00….well before it’s revealed in the plot.
They cast the versions of the main character throughout the years quite well, as they did her mother….but, maybe a bit too well. They are SO similar looking, that in some scenes you are not sure who you are seeing on screen….is that young Maddy? Or her mom? Or wait…so that lady in that last scene is NOT Maddy? Well who the hell was it? In some scenes the cuts between the different versions of these characters have you still trying to piece together what just happened on screen…and not really paying attention to what’s currently happening on screen.
Malignant is old school “body horror”, and I’ve been a fan of that genre since discovering David Cronenberg in my early teens, so I may be admittedly a bit biased here. Luckily Wan and company had the credibility and money behind them from proving themselves on “Saw”, “The Conjuring” and the like, because the visual affects are quite good. The “dream to reality” melt in effect is quite good, and when combined with a moving camera, it really takes you into the dizzying feeling of the main character. The “backwards” movement of the main villain was a great touch, and I loved it….which is why it stood out to me every time it broke down (the escape from the police department for example). But still, that fade effect and the villain movement earned a full star all on their own.
One place I do take issue is the music choices. They seem disjointed, almost as if the music was chosen by several different people. At times it would be this moody synth a la John Carpenter, sometimes whining strings a la giallo….and sometimes these weird interludes that sounded like 80’s Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry’s solo work. Not that it was bad…it just didnt always fit the scene or even the movie plot. Put it this way, if you’re 40 minutes into a horror film, and your first thought is, “Is that Bryan Ferry? Sounds like Bryan Ferry…” then your music choice is off.
In the end, if you are looking for newly trod ground as far as horror plots go….this isn’t your film. But, if you want to see something old school, something that may have stumbled out of Herbert West’s lab in “Reanimator”, or something that hearkens to the original Freddy before he became slapstick? You’ll find things to enjoy here.