When does malignant come to HBO Max?
'Malignant' will release in theatres and to stream exclusively with the HBO Max Ad-Free plan in the US on September 10, 2021. hbomax.com'Malignant' will release in theatres and to stream exclusively with the HBO Max Ad-Free plan in the US on September 10, 2021.
10 September, 2021 - 08:48am
A movie that takes big swings is always worth celebrating, and "Malignant," James Wan's out-of-control return to horror, takes some of the biggest swings you'll ever see on film. Wan hasn't helmed a horror movie since 2016, and returning to the genre has seemingly unhinged him, or at the very least made him dizzy with glee. He's a blockbuster filmmaker now, and here he uses his blockbuster skills and clout to conjure up a movie best described as "operatic." There's nothing subtle about "Malignant." It's not a slow burn. It's not a horror movie full of ever-mounting dread. It's not quiet. Instead, it is an in-your-face bit of tomfoolery that will knock you on your ass. I spent half the film grinning like an idiot, and the other half utterly befuddled at what I was seeing. So much here doesn't work, and yet, it's hard to not love something this outrageous.
We open at a gothic-looking hospital in 1993. It's a dark and stormy night (get used to that), and a bunch of staff members — nurses and doctors — are all at a fever-pitch over a mysterious patient named Gabriel. A character runs into frame, panicked and shouting, re: someone named Gabriel, "It was like he was drinking the electricity and controlling the machines!" That line comes less than five minutes into "Malignant," and it gives you only a tiny hint of how bonkers this thing is going to get. Gabriel's doctor, Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie), is on the scene, and Wan cuts to an angle where she's practically looking straight into the camera as she scolds, "You've been a bad, bad boy Gabriel!" All of this happens in a flurry of action — lights flash, sparks fly, and Joseph Bishara's wacko film score blasts in your ears. If you think "Malignant" is going to take a chill pill after this bombastic intro, think again.
Jump to the present. Madison (Annabelle Wallis) lives with her abusive husband in Seattle. The Seattle setting allows Wan to have it be almost constantly raining, setting the perfect mood (there's lots of fog, too; there are even scenes where there is fog indoors; James Wan loves fog, people). After a fight between Madison and her husband, someone breaks into the house and promptly — and violently — dispatches the abusive hubby (please don't scream "Spoiler!" at me; the husband character is in the movie for approximately six minutes, and once he's violently dispatched, he's almost never mentioned again). Madison is injured in the attack as well, and her troubles are just starting. Soon she's having terrifying visions in which she witnesses a killer — clad in a black leather coat and gloves — violently killing people using a modified trophy as his weapon. And wouldn't ya know it, the victims are members of the medical staff we saw in that weird intro. The killer is, of course, the mysterious Gabriel. But just what the heck is Gabriel's deal? And what is he up to? Does he even have a plan?
Needless to say, with Madison's connection to the killings — she makes the mistake of telling the cops about her visions — she becomes the prime suspect. But young, handsome Detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young) is sympathetic to Madison, probably because he's got the hots for Madison's sister (Maddie Hasson). All of this is leading somewhere, but whether or not you buy into that destination is going to depend on how much nonsense you can put up with. Let me be clear: when I call "Malignant" nonsense, I'm not doing so in a negative manner. No, no, no. I commend this movie for being so wild, so crazy, so unapologetically weird. But it's also nonsense — the type of nonsense you can cherish.
The list of problems with "Malignant" could fill up a few notebook pages. The story often makes absolutely zero sense. The characters make incredibly stupid decisions, even for horror movie characters (why does everyone just blindly walk into dark rooms in this movie??). Joseph Bishara's score is distracting to the point of disaster. And the overall tone is truly wonky — this is the type of movie where characters burst into the frame to deliver a melodramatic line with wide eyes, all as the camera swoops in on their face and the soundtrack blares BUM BUM BUM. It's borderline soap opera territory.
And yet, Wan has such a firm grip on his direction. His camera never sits still; never goes for the easy shot. It's always spinning, and swooping, and crouching, and twisting. There's a particularly great scene where Maddie runs through her house and the camera tracks her overhead, pointing down, showing us the different floors and rooms she passes through, just like the robot spider scene in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report." Some might call "Malignant" all style and no substance, but I think the substance is the style, almost as if Wan is channeling the trashy, lurid, wonderful thrillers of Brian De Palma. Wan himself has cited De Palma's "Raising Cain" as an influence, and that fits. That, too, was a wildly over-the-top showcase of skill, style, and nonsense.
The stumbles are plentiful, and sometimes, they hurt. There are multiple scenes here where characters watch videotapes that provide extensive exposition. One of those tapes is from some home movies, filmed during a birthday party. As the video camera keeps rolling and we keep watching characters on the tape expose on plot points, it grows ludicrous. Why would anyone filming a birthday party keep filming all this exposition? And then, why would they hang on to said exposition tape for decades? Is it because they hoped someone would show up at their door and shout, "Help us! We need to watch a VHS tape that explains what the hell is going on!" Then there's Wallis, who is unfortunately miscast here — she's way too stiff, and spends most of the movie screaming "NO!!" with wide eyes, and the screaming is never convincing.
But gosh. That stuff isn't enough to sabotage the gaudy, gore-soaked lunacy at work here. The production design, where police stations are made to resemble cavernous haunted mansions, is gorgeous. It's almost always raining, complete with thunder and lightning. The blood and gore both flow freely. And then there's the killer. Gabriel is almost always bathed in shadow, but when we see him, he makes for a wonderful boogeyman, complete with a ghoulish visage and limbs that bend and twist the wrong way. He doesn't so much run as he scurries about like a gigantic spider.
Is "Malignant" scary? It's certainly gruesome. But the grandiose tone keeps the movie from ever being truly scary. It goes to some spooky places, though, and Wan also manages to throw in a few action sequences, showcasing the skills he picked up helming "F9" and "Aquaman." The lack of true scares may be a deal-breaker for some. And indeed, the overall outlandishness at work on the screen is going to flat-out annoy certain viewers. But then there will be those who revel in the audacity of "Malignant," and boy oh boy are those folks in for a treat. This isn't even close to being James Wan's best horror movie, but cripes, it sure is a lot of fun.
10 September, 2021 - 12:00am
With his 10th feature, [James Wan] has provided audiences with the message that he still knows how to let it rip...
With his 10th feature, [James Wan] has provided audiences with the message that he still knows how to let it rip...
When James Wan’s Saw was released in 2004, it sparked a whole new era for horror filmmaking, as hardcore, visceral, and gore-heavy became the big new flavors. As popular as the style became in the industry, however, it wasn’t something that Wan ultimately let define him as a director. Looking at the last 10 years, his work has been noticeably very un-Saw-like, as he’s been drawn to the mostly bloodless hauntings subgenre when going for scares (i.e. The Conjuring and Insidious movies), and otherwise gaining experience making massive blockbusters (i.e. Furious 7 and Aquaman).
Wan’s desire to not be locked into making the same kind of movies over and over has been one of the most impressive aspects of his career, and clearly it has led to immense success – but all that in mind, Malignant is a fantastic reminder of his sensibilities. With his 10th feature, the filmmaker has provided audiences with the message that he still knows how to let it rip when he has a narrative means by which to do so, as the new releases is as frightening as it is fun as it is fucked up.
Scripted by Akela Cooper and based on an original story imagined by James Wan and his wife Ingrid Bisu, Malignant grips you from the start with a flashback prologue featuring varieties of bloody chaos at a research hospital, and from there it unfurls with a stack of big surprises and impressive ingenuity that has your mouth gaping widely as the action steers into wild third act. Given the way it moves, it’s a challenging film to talk about without giving too much away (something I am obsessively aiming at with this review), but it can’t be stressed enough that it has the goods waiting for audiences in its finale.
At the center of the supernatural horror story is Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a young woman who we meet as she is expecting her first child following multiple miscarriages. The pregnancy has unfortunately become a source of tension between the protagonist and her husband Derek (Jake Abel), and certainly helping absolutely nothing is that he is the kind of asshole who isn’t above slamming her into a wall. Scary as the circumstances are, though, they are nothing compared to what happens when a mysterious friend from Madison’s childhood named Gabriel comes back into her life and begins wreaking all kinds of havoc.
What I’ve described thus far are all events that transpire in Malignant’s first 30 minutes, and developments in the plot only get nuttier from there, save for a plateau that the movie hits in the middle. There are perpetually multiple mysteries unwinding – questioning the origins of Gabriel, what his motivations are, and his connection to Madison –and each one keeps you guessing right up until the film is ready to reveal the answer. You may figure out bits and pieces of what’s going on as you watch, but all movie-goers are in for a surprise when it all coalesces.
Only helping to keep viewers hooked and invested are the characters and cast, with Annabelle Wallis being the ensemble’s greatest strength. Madison is a weird role embedded at the center of a weird movie, but she finds the right blend of properly scared and emotional fortitude.
In addition to being a “going back to my roots” film for James Wan, Malignant is also the director’s own stylistic take on the Italian Giallo subgenre (popularized by filmmakers like Dario Argento and Mario Bava), and while the movie does bend more towards Wan than Giallo, the approach also inherently invites big swings with the cinematography, and it’s amazing to see Wan lean in. We still get his amazing swooping jib shots that can make any space haunting, but he goes far grander than normal (you’ll be dazzled as a sprinting character is tracked inside a two-story house from an aerial perspective), and there is some excellent punchy ending that lends the feature a unique feel.
One of the best side effects of the aesthetic is that it creates a kind of tongue-in-cheek quality, and James Wan is smart not to shy away from it. It not only knows you’re having fun watching the herky-jerky Gabriel slay his victims with his custom dagger, but it has a kind of meta appreciation of its own insanity, provided primarily through detective character Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White). It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it knows how to be humorous without disrupting the tension.
Without giving away too much, appropriate praise must also be delivered for the wicked and brilliant invention that is Gabriel. The monster is brought to life by contortionist dancer Marina Mazepa, and he is just hypnotizing to watch in his startling physicality. Gabriel is really at the heart of everything that is great about the film, and it’s exceptionally easy to see him quickly become a fan favorite among the lost list of James Wan’s horrific visions.
Looked at in blunt terms, Malignant is not a movie that James Wan had to make. In 2018 he made what remains (at the time of this review’s publication) the biggest DC Comics adaptation of all time, and all signs pointed to him all but immediately turning around and making Aquaman 2 as his follow-up. Instead, he decided to go the passion project route – and that’s just one more reason to love the new horror film. It’s an extreme experience that only Wan could provide, and easily one of the best scary movies of 2021.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.