Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

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DarkImbecile
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Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Sep 17, 2021 12:53 am

I also saw James Wan's Malignant in an empty theater at an 11pm showing, which was a real shame because it feels very much like the kind of movie where a large part of whatever enjoyment there is to be gleaned from it comes from an audience audibly offering the same "what the fuck?!" reactions running through your own head.

What spends its first half as an painfully sincere homage to your standard giallo — from the use of colored lighting and familiar "I can see through the killer's eyes!" plot all the way down to the stilted acting, off-putting attempts at humor, and occasionally painful dialogue — suddenly becomes a completely batshit gonzo spectacle you might expect from an '80s Brian Yuzna production. Lead actress Annabelle Wallis seems so genuinely afraid of the movie she's in — not the character being afraid of what's happening in the plot, to be clear, but the actress afraid of how this madness she agreed to participate in is going to come out in the final cut — that what I'm assuming is a purposely wooden performance becomes kind of perversely fascinating. Wan has shown himself to be more than capable of making more polished, well-crafted films than this, so the film's worst excesses come off not as laughable failures but more as the director laughing at his own joke and not really giving a shit whether anyone else is laughing with him.

By the time the credits rolled, I had come all the way around to respecting the chutzpah behind getting a major studio to release something this insane, even if I didn't much enjoy the experience of watching it. Very curious to hear what colinr0380 and others more well-versed in Malignant's antecedents think of it...

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Mr Sausage
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Re: The Films of 2021

#2 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Sep 17, 2021 3:30 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Fri Sep 17, 2021 12:53 am
I also saw James Wan's Malignant in an empty theater at an 11pm showing, which was a real shame because it feels very much like the kind of movie where a large part of whatever enjoyment there is to be gleaned from it comes from an audience audibly offering the same "what the fuck?!" reactions running through your own head.

What spends its first half as an painfully sincere homage to your standard giallo — from the use of colored lighting and familiar "I can see through the killer's eyes!" plot all the way down to the stilted acting, off-putting attempts at humor, and occasionally painful dialogue — suddenly becomes a completely batshit gonzo spectacle you might expect from an '80s Brian Yuzna production. Lead actress Annabelle Wallis seems so genuinely afraid of the movie she's in — not the character being afraid of what's happening in the plot, to be clear, but the actress afraid of how this madness she agreed to participate in is going to come out in the final cut — that what I'm assuming is a purposely wooden performance becomes kind of perversely fascinating. Wan has shown himself to be more than capable of making more polished, well-crafted films than this, so the film's worst excesses come off not as laughable failures but more as the director laughing at his own joke and not really giving a shit whether anyone else is laughing with him.

By the time the credits rolled, I had come all the way around to respecting the chutzpah behind getting a major studio to release something this insane, even if I didn't much enjoy the experience of watching it. Very curious to hear what colinr0380 and others more well-versed in Malignant's antecedents think of it...
There's something perversely admirable when
SpoilerShow
a movie about two personalities inhabiting a single body quotes the Fight Club soundtrack several times. That, plus the backward moving antagonist, gave the game away for me.
But the imagery is so aggressively bonkers that even if you have figured out what's going on, you're hardly prepared for what appears on screen in the last thirty minutes. Brian Yuzna/Screaming Mad George is a good reference point for the last quarter of the movie.

Up until then, yeah, Italian schlock horror is definitely the inspiration here. Not just the giallo, but also stuff like Fulci's House by the Cemetery or Bava's Shock. The first hour definitely plays up the haunted house angle before, much like the above mentioned Fulci film, settling on something more corporeal. But for all that, the film is not quite a pastiche. It never leans in to it's stylistic nods. Its early segments are right out of the Conjuring movies, while the later action sequences are unmistakably late-2010s. Even the rare stalking sequences play out less like Argento baroque than Wan's tested Insidious/Conjuring techniques. I think my disappointment with the movie is precisely that it wasn't enough of a pastiche. The material is wild, but the style is usually under control. Funnily, I think Sam Levinson in Assassination Nation understood the wild excesses of Italian grindhouse style better than Wan does here, and Levinson was making a social satire! And Wan doesn't come anywhere near the apex of this kind of thing: the films of Cattet and Forzani, which are simultaneously post-modern deconstructions and loving reconstructions and manage to be better than just about everything they're quoting. Wan's quotations here are less, say, De Palma on Hitchcock than David Fincher on Hitchcock. They're patterned across the surface but don't alter the director's underlying style. So the best parts of the movie are not what drew me to it (the Italian grindhouse legacy), but rather the final thirty minutes of bonkers 80s splatter coupled with a 1950s take on psychology and medical science. That the movie works at all is down where it ends up, and that's a point where I'm glad the film doesn't resemble an Italian horror: they almost never pay off the insanity and perversity of the set-up. Wan does.

I think you're more charitable to the bad acting in the movie, Dark Imbecile, than I am. I like the idea that it's deliberately wooden, like it'd be in the film's sources, but it mostly struck me as performers who had trouble committing to the reality of the material. Personally I think the performances should've been broader, like the prologue suggested would be the case. Something like this has no business trying to make you feel grounded.

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Matt
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Re: The Films of 2021

#3 Post by Matt » Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:00 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
Fri Sep 17, 2021 3:30 pm
Something like this has no business trying to make you feel grounded.
My complaint exactly. During the first 20-30 minutes, I was thinking, “I hate this.” Then I realized, “Oh, it’s trying to be a De Palma film,” (or, more accurately, several De Palma films) “but I still hate it.” Then it finally takes flight and briefly achieves some kind of mad greatness. It’s a bait-and-switch where the bait is not nearly as appealing as the switch.

My expert recommendation would have been to cut the budget in half (get rid of those melty backgrounds in the “visions” for starters), cut some characters (the husband at least—we really don’t need her to be the victim of domestic violence to trigger the rest of the plot), cut 30 minutes, and just jump into the deep end right away.

The film suffers from James Wan just throwing every idea he had into it, when just a little restraint or self-editing might have improved the final result immensely. I’m sure Warner Bros. is willing to let him do whatever he wants now provided he delivers on-time and on-budget.

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Re: The Films of 2021

#4 Post by The Curious Sofa » Sat Sep 18, 2021 3:35 am

I loved Malignant and I think having the first two thirds be this rather pedestrian horror film we've seen many times before, makes the insane last third really pop. I never got the love for James Wan, especially his Insidious films were this poor, ugly looking Poltergeist knock-off, but Malignant was the most fun I've had with a horror film in a while. This is the first time James Wan's tendency to go overboard with the art direction worked for me and in retrospect the flat performances and poor dialogue add to the campy fun. Wan tried something similarly loopy with Dead Silence, his follow up to Saw, but that didn't work quite as well.

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Re: The Films of 2021

#5 Post by Pavel » Sat Sep 18, 2021 3:42 am

I'm confident that I would've laughed my ass off and given Malignant, like, a 7 if I had seen it in a theater with friends, but watching it at home was pretty rough. I do semi-respect the insane direction it takes, but didn't particularly enjoy any minute of this.

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tenia
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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#6 Post by tenia » Sat Sep 18, 2021 4:21 am

I never really got Wan's positive halo as a director. He seemed mostly lucky to have Saw turning into a massively profitable surprise-franchise and with Insidious and The Conjuring so too despite very limited cinematographic qualities, I suspect he might be a better businessman than director.
In any case, Malignant isn't going to change my impressions on his work since I didn't find it an hommage to gialli or a pastiche but simply a totally awful movie that feels like a Z movie that Vinegar Syndrome could release but framed within a studio-style that's 99% totally out-of-its-place.
If an hommage, maybe it's to Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces rather than anything good on a 1st degree level, since Malignant feels like 15 very different movies poorly stitched together through an automatically piloted script that basically punching every single cliché possible to include. It begs to question why such a script could generate a 111 min movie rather than one at least 20 minutes shorter, but also how the people helming it think they can have characters 90 minutes in still wondering what's happening. I often say how I love Justified (the TV show) for how quick-understanding all its characters are : this is the exact opposite.

It's bonkers, sure enough, but it's also extremely dumb, and the very stilted acting altogether certainly doesn't help, from Wallis' dead eyes to every single supporting characters acting as if they're in a David DeCoteau movie. Most of the dialogue also feel like they're coming from there too, actually.
Visually, it's also often quite awful to look at, Wan's gimmicks totally out-of-place and overused here, but the non-descript digital photography and the overall style of the movie makes it look as if the movie has NO IDEA how dumb and Z it actually can feel. It's making even more hilarious its bonkers twist-and-turns ending up with a result that could be mistaken for some Uwe Boll stuff (thinks it's doing good stuff, actually is godawfully dumb and bad), some kind of result of a carte blanche brainstorming from which absolutely no idea was discarded, but produced in a relatively straight-forward manner (it's still is a $40m studio movie, and it shows). Actually, maybe Warner told him "just do whatever", and he literally did that.
Same goes for the half-crap electronic-industrial, half crap orchestral OST.

This makes the movie a surprise contender for campy "so bad it's good" movie-nights with drunk friends (and it sure is hilarious when taken on a 2nd degree), but on a more normative aspect, it's just bad overall, and it shows straight from its hilarious bad and poorly acted prologue.

2.5/10

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:46 am

There's a great Half In The Bag episode about Malignant here (enormous spoilers), which makes it look very funny, kind of like if Stephen King's The Dark Half had been taken to absurd extremes! I particularly like the physical comedy moment they show a couple of times of that lady crashing through the attic floor and falling forty feet into a coffee table in the living room! Even isolated from context that still feels as if it would have to play as an intentionally funny punchline moment!

I also like their comments about the ginormous looking house set! Although when they keep saying "who would have the guts to do a big studio horror movie this subversive", I keep wanting to say that Ridley Scott got there first with Prometheus and especially Alien: Covenant on much bigger budgets and with a wide theatrical release!
Matt wrote:
Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:00 pm
My expert recommendation would have been to cut the budget in half (get rid of those melty backgrounds in the “visions” for starters), cut some characters (the husband at least—we really don’t need her to be the victim of domestic violence to trigger the rest of the plot), cut 30 minutes, and just jump into the deep end right away.
Although, just going from what I have seen from that Half In The Bag review, isn't the entire theme of the film the way that this particular woman has always been repressed by controlling men (not even free inside her own mind), just literalised by the revelation as the ultimate 'controlling man' starts attacking other women through her instead of domestically abusing, which is when the authorities suddenly start bleatedly giving a damn? I'm not sure how well a heavy idea like that would mesh with the goofy monster and the 'Matrix police station fight scenes' near the end though! Maybe it all comes down to James Wan wanting to play Leigh Whannell at his own game by mashing The Invisible Man and Upgrade together into one deformed twin!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Sep 18, 2021 12:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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tenia
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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#8 Post by tenia » Sat Sep 18, 2021 6:38 am

colinr0380 wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:46 am
I also like their comments about the ginormous looking house set! Although when they keep saying "who would have the guts to do a big studio horror movie this subversive", I keep wanting to say that Ridley Scott got there first with Prometheus and especially Alien: Covenant on much bigger budgets and with a wide theatrical release!
What I keep finding interesting about Malignant and then Covenant is that they don't seem "subversive" to me, but just simple misfires on artistic and cinematographic levels. Except if making failed movies with poor acting and plot is supposed to be subversive, then yeah of course, but it would imply this is a conscious choice and not the result of simply not having been able to do better.

You're for instance mentioning how many moments in the movie feel extremely absurd and should have played for an intentional dumb/funny punchline : that's where I think are the most obvious tell-tales that in the mind of the people behind Malignant, it's not supposed to be for laughs but we're supposed to take this at face value to most extent. Just like the absurd (and visually awful) action scenes choked-full of aggresive CGIs towards the end are supposed to be cool action scenes and not out-of-place gimmicks, the design of the baddie is supposed to be scary and not ridiculously laughable, and all this supposed to provide value for money to the viewer and not feel like we've suddenly changed the channel for the humpteen times, I have a very hard time believing Wan wasn't thinking about making an hommage to Sisters and Suspiria but ended up making one to Domino and Giallo.
To me, at least the overall pace of the "investigation", the very stilted (or totally over the top) acting and most of the dialogue lines tend to confirm the idea it's definitely not intentional, but just poorly done.
colinr0380 wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:46 am
Although, just going from what I have seen from that Half In The Bag review, isn't the entire theme of the film the way that this particular woman has always been repressed by controlling men (not even free inside her own mind), just literalised by the revelation as the ultimate 'controlling man' starts attacking other women through her instead of domestically abusing, which is when the authorities suddenly start bleatedly giving a damn?
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Not really, since out of the main scientific tormentors, the main one is a woman (if that's where you're headed with this argument). It's more of a parent/child issue than a man/woman one.

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#9 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Sep 18, 2021 6:53 am

I'm open to that idea of it all being unintentional, but bearing in mind that I have not seen Malignant in full yet the other thing that came to mind when they were talking in that Half In The Bag video about 'imagining James Wan sitting at the back of the theatre smiling at the audience laughter' was that extra feature on Ridley Scott's film of Hannibal which covertly filmed the vocal audience reactions at the premiere to that final dinner table scene!

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:24 am

Yeah, I can't say feminist themes are here in any meaningful sense. The film is blunt about its family themes. If you were to extrapolate the story into a gender theme, I don't think you would arrive at anything that wasn't ugly and incoherent. Tho' I'm sure there's a grad student somewhere busy turning this into a paper on the effects of internalized misogyny in women.

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#11 Post by Aspect » Sat Sep 18, 2021 10:58 am

Agree with tenia, though I would rate it much higher for pure enjoyment. I saw this on HBOMax the day after it premiered and the slow realization that this was a new classic “so bad it’s fucking fantastic movie” on the level of Strike Commando or, more appropriately considering it’s a major studio production from WB, Geostorm, was an experience I will treasure forever. I was howling with laughter.

While some, including Jay from RLM, are arguing this is a practical joke movie Wan made purposefully bad, I didn’t get that impression. After all, Aquaman is a terrible movie clearly unaware of how ridiculous it is most of the time. In Wan’s epic and misguided arrogance, I’m convinced he was trying to take tropes from sources as disparate as stylish gialli, CBS cop shows, and late 70s/early 80s grindhouse flicks and legitimize them, transforming them into something new and scary for a younger audience unfamiliar with his sources. To our infinite pleasure, he failed gloriously. The bad movie gods were smiling and kept him blissfully unaware of how jaw-droppingly hilarious, rather than scary, the movie he was making actually was while he labored under the delusion he was mixing up a fresh brew from tired cliches. Except his ingredients were silly then and are silly now. The overdone slickness of his soulless modern style cannot hide the goofiness at the core of his “new vision of terror.”

The poor actors - I feel so bad for them. “My big break! A WB film by James Wan!” And they all come across worse than high school drama students. If Wan did this on purpose, he’s more evil than anything he depicted in The Conjuring!

This movie is a gift. Treasure it.

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#12 Post by Monterey Jack » Mon Sep 20, 2021 3:29 pm

This is one of the worst movies I have seen this year, and perhaps the worst movie from a generally-reliable filmmaker since Robert Zemeckis' Welcome To Marwen. I don't generally laugh out loud at bad movies in the cinema (I try to be respectful), but, man, was I tempted by this one. Once the Big Reveal happened, I was just staring in glassy-eyed shock as what transpired in the last 20 minutes. And even before that, the film was rife with acting so awkward it could have been right out of an M. Night Shyamalan flick. Why was one of the cartoonishly nasty women who started beating on Annabelle Wallis in the jail cell dressed and coiffed like Pam Grier circa Coffey...?

The "It's good, seriously...!" support for this is baffling.

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#13 Post by kidc » Sun Oct 03, 2021 8:09 am

tenia wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 6:38 am
colinr0380 wrote:
Sat Sep 18, 2021 5:46 am
Although, just going from what I have seen from that Half In The Bag review, isn't the entire theme of the film the way that this particular woman has always been repressed by controlling men (not even free inside her own mind), just literalised by the revelation as the ultimate 'controlling man' starts attacking other women through her instead of domestically abusing, which is when the authorities suddenly start bleatedly giving a damn?
SpoilerShow
Not really, since out of the main scientific tormentors, the main one is a woman (if that's where you're headed with this argument). It's more of a parent/child issue than a man/woman one.
SpoilerShow
Is she a tormentor? She was the main instigator in separating Madison and Gabriel.
Not suggesting this a defining work of feminist art or anything, but the gender themes felt really clear and blatant.
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Even the good guy cop is ultimately not tremendously useful - in the last scene he is thrown out of the room, and the film ends with only the three women in shot.

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Re: Malignant (James Wan, 2021)

#14 Post by tenia » Mon Oct 04, 2021 12:35 pm

kidc wrote:
Sun Oct 03, 2021 8:09 am
SpoilerShow
Even the good guy cop is ultimately not tremendously useful - in the last scene he is thrown out of the room, and the film ends with only the three women in shot.
I simply took this as the movie caring that much about some of its characters.

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Re: The Films of 2021

#15 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Oct 15, 2021 12:19 am

Mr Sausage wrote:
Fri Sep 17, 2021 3:30 pm
There's something perversely admirable when
SpoilerShow
a movie about two personalities inhabiting a single body quotes the Fight Club soundtrack several times. That, plus the backward moving antagonist, gave the game away for me.
Spoiler: also, for Mr. Robot Season 1Show
Conversely, I find it incredibly irritating when other works use instrumental versions of The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” on the soundtrack and still expect to shock audiences with a “twist” when they pull a Fight Club on us. Mr. Robot, which started off strong in the early eps of its first season, ultimately devolved into making blatantly clear that Malek was imagining Slater’s presence, though they just had to play that Pixies song in a penultimate episode to cement that theory for any audience member paying a lick of attention. I was so frustrated I never went back to the show- copying another film is one thing (I’m looking at you, The Killing season 3, robbing another early Fincher film in your finale to the point where it goes beyond emulation and becomes liable for accusations of mirrored plagiarism), but beating us over the head with it, winking over and over, is just disrespectful to the audience’s capacity to make simple connections…

Unlike Sausage, I’m not convinced I would’ve guessed the reveal without that early score planted there (well, at least not until the video-tape viewing at the halfway mark), which at this point is printed into our culture’s cinematic shark-jumping games when portraying Dissociative Identity Disorder, so when a movie this wild presents itself as a silly ride from the get-go, you know what’s coming. I'm not asking for nuance, just a chance to engage in a film without coercive handholding.
Mr Sausage wrote:
Fri Sep 17, 2021 3:30 pm
So the best parts of the movie are not what drew me to it (the Italian grindhouse legacy), but rather the final thirty minutes of bonkers 80s splatter coupled with a 1950s take on psychology and medical science. That the movie works at all is down where it ends up, and that's a point where I'm glad the film doesn't resemble an Italian horror: they almost never pay off the insanity and perversity of the set-up. Wan does.
Couldn't have said it any better (certainly not as succinctly!) myself. Personal peeves aside, I'll concede that the last act was fun; a blast really. Thankfully the film is so far gone by this juncture that these sharp left-turn amplifications feel both securely planted within its internal logic and totally surprising after the humdrum B-horror narrative that precedes them. While part of me wishes the movie was leaner (cutting part of that first feature-length two acts, of course), it's interesting to think of this as another one of a million superfluous programmers that Wan decided to concoct solely for the experiment of adding an entirely novel final act instead of merely revealing the killer and finishing off with a quick banal setpiece, as so many of his influences have done before. Worth seeing for the last 20-30 minutes, even if, like others, I found this pretty monotonous overall.

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