MOVIE REVIEW —MALIGNANT (2021) (Major Spoiler Section)

Figure 1 – Malignant Poster

IMDB précis says “Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.” Which is true as far as it goes, but there’s a lot more to this film than that. Unfortunately, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with it, because it ends up a B-movie slasher when it could have been so much more.

Written by James Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Akela Cooper, with screenplay by Akela Cooper, this seems to have an IMDB rating of about 6.7 or so. Wan, of course, is well known for helming Saw movies and the recent Aquaman “blockbuster.” (I stopped watching those after the first Saw, and thought Aquaman was a whole bunch of CGI and pretty well-known actors in service of a weak DC movie. But maybe that’s just me—I mean, I like Jason Momoa and think he could get more and better parts.)

First the “whatabout”—during the credits we’re given a bunch of information: it opens in a hospital where someone named Gabriel is causing havoc. A patient named “Emily May,” a child, has been left in their care. We learn through flashes that he can control electricity, talk through speakers, and he or somebody is sleepwalking with waking dreams. There is blood on the walls and a few dead nurses or staff. Doctor Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) shoots a tranquilizer dart into someone. Dr. Weaver asserts “It’s time to cut out the cancer.” We see somebody being operated on, assuming this is Emily May or Gabriel.

Cut to “present day” (about 30 years later); a woman named Madison (Annabelle Wallis)—a very pregnant woman wearing what appear to be surgical scrubs—is getting out of a Toyota Corolla, with Washington plates, in front of a small, but beautiful Victorian house. She makes her way slowly and apparently painfully up to the second floor. Her husband Derek (Jake Abel) is lying on the bed watching TV. We learn she’s had several miscarriages and is hopeful to bring this one to term, but after an argument, her husband slams her against the wall, cracking the plaster and, apparently, knocking her out. He runs out of the room to presumably call medical aid, but she gets up and locks the door, then lies on the bed. She feels the back of her head and her hand comes away bloody.

********************MINOR SPOILER REMOVED, see spoilers at end********************************

Maddy’s adoptive sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) is there to help her as the police investigate what appears to be a home invasion. We meet Seattle police detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White). Shaw is a young white man; Moss is a slightly older Black woman (White appears to be channeling Wanda Sykes—she not only resembles her, but the voice is strikingly similar, along with the character’s attitude—very upfront and “in your face.”).

Maddy begins having what appear to be hallucinations, concurrent with a series of mysterious murders; Maddy thinks she’s seeing the killings as they happen. These murders have one thing in common: they’re all doctors. Maddy sees the face of the killer in one “hallucination”; she and Sydney go to the police (Shaw and White). The police sketch artist produces a portrait of a weird lumpy-faced person with dark hair hanging over the face. White says, sarcastically, “So we’re supposed to look for Sloth from The Goonies?”

We’re getting cut scenes from different locations—a tour guide for Seattle’s Underground hears noises as she’s closing up for the night after her last tour group leaves, and is captured by the killer. (In case you don’t know, Seattle had a major fire in the 19th century and just built over the ruins, leaving them more or less as they were. You can still go on a tour of the more accessible parts of the ruins of Old Seattle.)

Maddy describes one killing the police don’t know about, telling them the approximate location; Shaw and White go there and find a body and arrest Maddy for the killings.

The solution and the dénoument of the film consist of major spoilers. At about this point, the film becomes very bloody—a minor “slasher” epic, and we see the killer very clearly. If you want to read how it all ends and why I’m disappointed in this movie, I’ll put spoilers below. (Stephen King apparently called this film “brilliant,” but I disagree.) The part I think King liked is the part I like least, but you’ll have to read the spoilers to find out. Overall, the best part of this film for me was the CGI of the hallucinations and the killer himself, but I think there were some wasted characterization opportunities. The pacing and the scene cuts were a bit off, too, in my opinion. I wanted to like this more, but I only liked it somewhat.


******************************************SPOILER SECTION*******************************************

************THE ENDING WILL BE REVEALED BELOW****************

The first spoiler mentioned above was after Derek threw Maddy against the wall.





Maddy falls asleep in the bedroom, and we see Derek asleep downstairs on the couch. He is awakened by a noise, and is attacked by a mysterious black figure (all we see is a dark shape) with long hair; Maddy comes downstairs and is knocked unconscious. We find out later that Derek was killed and Maddy suffered another miscarriage.

********************RESOLUTION SPOILERS***********************

Kekoa pursues the killer, whose face we’ve now seen—he’s ugly as sin, wearing a tattered black coat and black gloves and moves oddly—through Seattle’s Underground, but loses him.

Maddy is in jail in “the tank” with a bunch of other women; they see she’s not one of their kind (drunks, prostitutes, other lowlifes) and gang up on her. This is the movie’s “reveal”—Maddy, who is facing away from the other women, suddenly falls to her knees and the face of the killer (Gabriel) appears under the hair on the back of her head. With some very clever CGI, Gabriel takes over Maddy’s body, using it backwards. He kills all the women then escapes from the cell, and mercilessly (and extremely agilely) murders all the cops in the station; Shaw and White come in and attack him; Shaw gets a broken arm, and White is knocked unconscious. Gabriel breaks the station windows and escapes. We find out that he is actually a partially-developed, conjoined twin who shares Maddy’s brain and can control her body while she’s unconscious. There’s a bunch of pseodo-science (bafflegab) to explain how he was partially cut out of Maddy but since they share a brain they would have probably made her a half-wit or something if they’d completely excised him, so Doctor Weaver somehow cut out most of him and hid the face and brain inside her head. And Derek triggered a reawakening by slamming her head into the wall.

I didn’t buy any of that. Yes, when twins do not properly develop in the womb, one can be partially subsumed by the other. But this one has a bunch of weird “sci-fi” (not SF, IMO) twists like Gabriel’s control of electricity, his supernatural strength and unbelievable agility, and his ability to use Maddy’s body backward. That, plus the whole police station slasher bit, just were too over the top for me. As always, YMMV—this is only my opinion.

Comments on my column are welcome. You can comment here, or on Facebook, or even drop me an email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All your comments are welcome, but please keep it polite.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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