Malignant (2021) October 9th, 2021
Malignant is so staggeringly stupid you could be conned into believing it’s brilliant. Malignant begins when Madison, a pregnant nurse who’s come home early to rest after a painful day of pregnancy finds her husband Derek lounging on the couch watching UFC. He’s annoyed because she’s interrupted his siesta and begins grilling her about the pregnancy. She says, “Please Derek, I really need to get some rest,” he replies, “No, maybe you need to stop getting pregnant.” I am intrigued, this is an awesomely cringeworthy line. Maybe Malignant is a Jim Hosking esq masterpiece in awkwardness. The scene continues as Madison pleads, “Derek, please. I just really need to lie down.” He responds, “You know the doctor said this could happen again, right? You know that. How many times do I have to watch my children die inside of you?” I am rapt, Malignant must be an anti-comedy masterpiece. They exchange a few more meaningless lines before Madison says just the right series of words to set Derek off, he calls her a bitch and shoves her head against the wall leaving behind a bloody stain in the cracked drywall.
I laughed out loud. Not at the domestic violence, that’d be horrible, but horrific acts combined with three stooges blocking and the Tommy Wieseau dialogue is comic brilliance in my book. I thought to myself “Oh cool, this movie’s going to be total shit like Spookies or The Room where every couple of minutes something ridiculous happens that puts a spotlight on the filmmaker’s ineptitudes. I like those movies, this will be fun.”
That dream was shattered mere moments later when Madison wakes up in a hospital bed, learns she’s lost her baby and is informed her husband’s been murdered by a smoke monster. I’m sitting taut with anticipation for the inevitable laughs but the scene continues, taking itself very seriously and offering no opportunity for chuckles for the next 20 minutes. The magic of good-bad movies like Spookies and The Room lies in the uninterrupted weirdness and the charmingly incompetent filmmaking, unfortunately Malignant‘s writer/director James Wan is too technically talented to produce a good-bad movie and instead made just a bad movie.
Malignant spends the majority of its runtime building a mystery around the identity of a new spree killer. Remember Derek from before? Well the smoke monster that killed him is killing again. Over the next few days Madison’s tormented by visions of the monster’s killings while her family investigates the secrets of Madison’s life before her adoption. Madison’s murderous visions persist and eventually it’s revealed that the murderer was actually… inside her all along! Specifically in the back of her head.
You read that right, she’s a full on Professor Quirrell! Turns out Madison was born with a parasitic twin! When she was 8 years old a team of surgeons attempted to separate the twins but could only succeed in amputating Gabriel, the male twin attached to Madison’s back. Don’t worry, even back then it was clear Gabriel was a violent monster with unjustified and unexplained demonic abilities. This mercy killing would save Madison and many more from Gabriel’s wrath. Unfortunately they couldn’t completely separate the twins joined at the brain, the best the doctors could do was surgically remove Gabriel’s limbs and tuck what was left of him into her skull and hope for the best.
Unfortunately for everyone Gabriel awoke when Derek smashed Madison’s head against the wall in the beginning of the movie. *Cue laugh-track* Unfortunately for Madison, Gabriel used their shared brain to create a dream like world for Madison while he takes control of their body to hunt down and slaughters the doctors who tried to amputate him, oh and he tries to kill their birth mother… and Madison’s adoptive sister… basically anyone getting between him and his sister… who’s also himself? Whatever. By the time Madison figures all this out only her sister and birth mother remain alive. Then it happens. Empowered and eager to protect her remaining family Madison turns the tables on Gabriel disarming him and locking him in a mental phantom zone where he’ll remain until the inevitable sequel.
Malignant is a bad movie with a great premise. I sincerely like the creative story about a parasitic twin who survived separation and seeks vengeance against the doctors who tried to kill them. I take back all the negativity from before. I really like Malignant… oh wait I’m mistaken… I really like Basket Case, the movie Malignant‘s writer/director James Wan apparently ripped off. See if you can spot the similarities. In Basket Case a young man named Duane moves to New York City with nothing but cash, a picnic basket, and a plan for revenge. What’s in the basket? Why none other than his parasitic twin Belial who… you guessed it, survived a separation surgery after being left for dead by the surgeons performing the operation! Now Duane and Belial stalk the dimly lit streets of NYC, seeking vengeance against Belial’s would be murderers. A bloody rampage implicating Duane follows and forces the twins into violent conflict from which only one can emerge whole. Who will survive their final separation?
Malignant‘s Writer/director James Wan doesn’t credit Basket Case‘s writer/director Frank Henenlotter as an inspiration or influence in his copycat film’s credits. During a recent press conference James Wan acknowledged the similarities between the two films saying “I wouldn’t necessarily say [Basket Case] was an outright inspiration for this movie… but it’s kinda hard to not have Basket Case come up, and when we were making this film, designing the look of Gabriel and how crazy and weird he is, because Basket Case pretty much is a story about this evil twin to some degree, and it really just stemmed from how do we create a villain that is on the back of someone’s brain, and when it comes out, all that we see of the brain is just the eyeball, a little bit of mouth and teeth, but there’s no way you don’t make that connection with Basket Case because that’s kind of what he is.” There you have it. James Wan is not ripping off Frank Henenlotter, he’s also ripping off J.K. Rowling.
Pros: Sometimes Malignant‘s so dumb it’s funny. James Wan plays with the camera and uses fun effective shots 20% of the time at most. He really does know how to shoot action and some of the ridiculous scenes where Gabriel was fighting people backwards were fun.
Cons: Everything else. I couldn’t even enjoy the mystery because I figured out the majority of the twists 30 minutes in which left me asking aloud “Why is there 120 more minutes in this movie?” Think about it, when do people use the word malignant? When they’re talking about tumors. What’s a tumor? An abnormal growth of tissue. So something in the movie titled Malignant must obviously be tumor-like. The second major clue was Maddy’s head never stopped bleeding after that first trauma with Derek. But the biggest clue came during one of Gabriel’s murders when you can clearly see his face is bloody and concealed in long brown hair that looks an awful lot like Madison’s. If you pay attention while he’s murdering one of his surgeons you can tell he’s moving backward as if his head’s been spun around. If you’ve ever played Soulcalibur you’d immediately recognize the movements as similar to Voldo’s contortionist play-style. So if it’s not some sort of living tumor, it’s got to be the next best thing, a parasitic twin. And sure enough it was. Now that I’ve figured it out I just have to sit there and listen to all the dumb fucking hints where some character tells Madison, “He’s in your head,” or Madison says something like, “I know he’s not real but somewhere in the back of my head I worry he’s still there,” or some such telegraphed bullshit grating on my nerves because I’d already deduced the twists an hour ago. “Madison, Gabriel must be someone from your past. We’ve got to start looking… backwards.” James, I fucking get it man, he’s in her brain, end the movie already.
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