James Wan’s ‘Malignant’ dishes out bonkers horror nightmare

Noah Levine

Master of horror James Wan slices back into the genre scene with an original, terrifying tale. 

“Malignant,” premiering in theaters and on HBO Max, follows Madison, a young woman  ambushed by a terrifying shadow figure that murders her husband. In the aftermath of the attack, she is plagued by visions and sees the assailant everywhere. As the body count rises, paranoia-consumed Madison (Annabelle Wallis) uncovers a terrifying secret buried within her childhood. 

With an impressive horror career featuring “The Conjuring” and “Insidious,” Wan understands how to craft visuals lifted straight from nightmares. Gliding camera movements and dizzying overhead perspectives define “Malignant’s” haunting cinematic style. Oftentimes rapid camera movements nearly chase the protagonists, much like Sam Raimi’s cinematography in “The Evil Dead.” Eerie set design and red-drenched neon lighting provide a twisted environment for the narrative to unravel. 

It’s harder now than ever to create a memorable and iconic horror villain frightening enough to fit amongst the genre’s legendary history, but Wan still managed to conjure a perfectly twisted, spooky character. The film’s absolutely terrifying, backward-walking, dagger-wielding, overcoat-wearing antagonist, dubbed “Gabriel,” has a harrowing, disfigured build with nightmare-inducing acrobatic skills. He scrambles and gashes his way through a slew of gore-tastic slasher sequences, resulting in a finale that will leave horror fans’ jaws splattered on the floor. 

Certain plot elements and character dynamics feel a bit half-baked, and the narrative exposition often feels way too convenient. “Malignant” holds its mysteries locked away at first, disorienting both the protagonist and the audience. However, when the darkness of the film comes to light with an absolutely nightmare-inducing revelation, it spirals into an adrenaline-fueled experience that provides context for the proceeding narrative. 

“Malignant” is a twisted return-to-form for James Wan, reminiscent of his original style seen in the endlessly fun “Dead Silence.” Wan taps into his inner horror fan, conjuring a blood-splattered experience audiences can cherish for years to come. 

4.5 Holy Sh*ts out of 5