Trying something new here. This is a short, two-paragraph review. A longer analysis will follow.
Malignant is a movie of two minds, both figuratively and literally. First, it’s a wildly exciting new offering from horror maestro James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious). Timid nurse Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant with a lazy, abusive jerk for a husband. How bad is he? In the first few minutes of the movie, he promptly leaves our heroine bloodied with a cracked skull. Madison locks herself in her room and passes out, and that night, her husband is brutally murdered by a shadowy, long-haired figure. Soon after, Madison begins seeing people she doesn’t know getting murdered while it happens. The murderer is Gabriel, Madison’s imaginary childhood friend–or was he? Madison’s sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) tracks down the mystery to (you guessed it) an abandoned mental hospital, and the frenetic conclusion is a gory slash-a-thon that would make Sam Raimi proud.
Second, Malignant is incredibly self-indulgent. Wan shoots the movie with a multitude of camera angles and lenses, giving the action a manic, kitchen sink aesthetic. Malignant is also filled with references to horror movies from the Seventies through the Nineties, and I’m sure horror movie buffs will likely enjoy playing “name that movie” while the action zips by. (By now there are probably several YouTube videos and internet listicles that obsessively document every reference.) I didn’t mind the constant call-outs, and enjoyed recognizing several of them, but there were so many they ultimately became a distraction. Malignant marks a decidedly different approach to horror for Wan, and while I was entertained throughout, I never felt captivated or enthralled by it, as I had with his other films. At times, the movie feels like an amalgamation of things Wan likes (old horror movies, analog radios, VCRs, dry ice, synthesizers, industrial music, goth clothes, etc.), combined in a chemistry set. The resulting explosions, while always eye-catching, seem to be more for Wan’s benefit than ours. In all the mayhem, the human connection gets lost. Regardless, there’s still a lot to enjoy here, and if you are willing to accept the movie on its terms, it’s an exciting ride. Recommended.