R for being an extremely violent and kind of gory horror movie. It's not trying for the PG-13 at any point, so it goes for the gross out humor from time-to-time. Similarly, Gabriel decides to use brute force for many of his kills, leaving absolutely destroyed bodies. There's some other things that have to do with spoilers, but it is all tied to gore and uncomfortable imagery. R.
DIRECTOR: James Wan
Okay, guys. Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. If you are reading this blog after having seen this movie, there's a good chance that you absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. This is one of those movies that might not have a middle ground. Me? I'm on the love it side. That's not to say that it is a perfect movie. Oh, heck no. This movie is far from being a perfect movie. But I had such a good time watching this movie that I audibly guffawed and applauded moments, which a horror movie hasn't done for me in quite a while.
The thing is, two separate people had asked me if I had seen this movie the Monday after it came out. And both of them were assured that I would absolutely hate it. Do you know what I say to both of those people? Thank you. This is an un-ironic bit of thanks to two separate individuals who thought of me the second that they saw this movie and wanted to engage me about it after viewing it. It made my day. But even moreso, it got me prepped for a viewing experience that was rare. Because the thing is, there was a good chance that I was going to hate it. All it would have taken was a slightly different day and I would have gone from being all-in to heck-no in one quick move. Yeah, film probably shouldn't be that subjective, but it is sometimes. What happened was two things: 1) I lowered my expectations way lower than I previously had from seeing the trailer and 2) I was now curious what the heck that they were talking about. Because Malignant lives or dies based on the reveal in the final act. That last act is tonally so much different than everything else in the movie that I forgot that movies were allowed to do that.
Because I grew up watching now-unwatchable movies like Sleepaway Camp. (I desperately don't want to revisit this movie based on my politics at 38.) But there was a sense of fun to a lot of horror movies. Sometimes these were good horror movies, but often they were pretty dumb. I still will watch Friday the 13th 3D because of how shameless it is. But horror movies have taken themselves so seriously. I probably blame Saw for this attitude. Saw, as enjoyable as the first movie actually is, has very little fun to it. It is about scares-per-minute. They want to terrify the audience enough to have the movie spread through word of mouth. And I get that. It's the same reason that I swore that The Exorcist was one of the greatest movies ever. But there is a specific emotional experience that comes from laughing in the face of danger and Malignant is that. Now, this isn't to say that Malignant has comedy in it. Nope. The movie has that kind of comedy that embraces how serious the film actually is. (I know, I sound like a hypocrite right now.) Some comedies wink to the audience. However, there's nothing funny to the characters in the film. Instead, the movie leans heavily into an absurd premise and refuses to tip its hand at any point.
That is brilliant. That is seven levels of brilliant. I never thought that it would come from James Wan. Listen, I often have fun at James Wan movies, but I don't particularly love them. They are good scares and there's something very faux-retro about many of his films. But Wan played up to his own expectations in this one. Being the king of the jump-scare, this movie felt like just more of the same. When the two people told me that there was a huge twist in this one, I thought it was going to go the way of Split and connect itself to another franchise. Instead, I got this gonzo ending of MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT: a living tumor that overrides the body and kills people backwards. That moment, when the reveal happens, is one of the most perfect absurdity moments that I've seen in film for a while. Because Wan knows what the expectation for an answer was, having that answer poking the audience in the face (I mean, the title alone!) is just such a joyful moment of "Gotcha!" that I forgave what ultimately should have been a pretty boring horror movie.
It's that defiance of expectations that sells the film in every way possible. The movie knows the old cliché tropes that we see in every horror and suspense film. Madison, who can see the murder, is subconsciously killing people. No one believes that the little girl is capable of murder, but that usually ends up being true. No, the movie really continues to double down on this notion and it just seems hack for a lot of the movie. So when the movie decides to abandon all sense of reality and reason, making Gabriel a fetal twin that cracks his way out of Madison's head, it becomes this bonkers reward because he dared do what few people would. This is the horror film of the '90s, only kept wildly secret throughout the film as a whole. Is it perfect? Probably not. The electricity thing I have to squint at for the duration of the film. But is it effective? Totally.
Because Gabriel's movements are bizarre as heck throughout. Those movements are James Wan's bread and butter and it shows that he might be one of the only people who could effectively capture the surreal nature of Gabriel, especially when it came to movement. Sure, the Garbriel chase sequence at the end goes a little too long. I can't even fight that. I kind of wish the final scene took place inside the prison cell, but that's small potatoes. (Also, I wouldn't have had the sheer delight of watching Gabriel launch a chair across a police station effortlessly taking out the hero cops towards the end.) Watching that scene is like the goofy dance that I've always wanted to direct. It's well-choreographed. It's terrifying. But most of all, it is the most silly thing that I've seen on screen since Sleepaway Camp. (I need to stop making that comparison because that movie is toxic as get-out in retrospect.) I love having fun at horror movies. That was why I enjoyed them in the first place. Movies like Scream and Halloween loved the idea that this was a universe where there was fun to be had while dealing with the terrifying, but I think we've kind of come away from that attitude a bit with some of the movies that have been coming out in the genre. I mean, we have some greats, like Jordan Peele, doing what he does. But very few people acknowledge that horror is allowed to be a little campy without full on winking to the audience.
That's what Malignant is. It is a welcome send up to the era of horror movies that loved to just be silly at times. And the insane part is that it is genuinely disturbing and scary at times, so it can't be faulted for that. I can see why some people would hate it. Like I said, all it would take is a different attitude going in to make me hate it. After all, it breaks its own rules of what is acceptable as an answer and that the answer is almost unguessable. But that doesn't matter to me. Because the title just laughed in my face and that the opening credit sequence was more than meets the eye, I fell in love. This was a great film and I know that I might be alone in celebrating it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.