*. This could have been so good.
*. In the first place, James Wan was back doing an original horror film after what felt like a dull (if profitable) hiatus directing franchise crap like Aquaman and Furious 7. I’m not a huge fan of the Insidious and Conjuring movies, but they were at least the work of someone who understood suspense, and they were effective entertainments for the most part.
*. Second: the main genre inspiration for Malignant is Italian giallo, and particularly its later decadent phase, which I’m a big fan of. It made me think primarily of Dario Argento’s Trauma, which is the only late Argento movie that I really love. It doesn’t have any of Argento’s sense of style, but the plot captures the wild, over-the-top giallo madness of Trauma. The first full reveal of the Gabriel puppet had me grinning ear to ear, as did the size of the giant hospital on the top of the cliff. Suddenly the fact that Madison was living alone in a mansion that size in Seattle fit (even if it never made sense).
*. But then things started going wrong. Yes, Wan was back, but he didn’t seem interested in being scary. Lights flicker and things go bump in the night, and the usual bag of tricks is drawn from, like a fast-moving figure seen darting across the screen behind someone. But there were no decent set-piece suspense sequences, and finally Wan just went with revealing the victims’ bodies. Nor was there much shock value. Instead, the murders were only gouts of CGI splatter that didn’t do anything for me.
*. Then the giallo aspects were overtaken by what can only be described as a case of superheroitis. The bloodbath in the police station was ridiculous and over-the-top to be sure, but in a stupid way. And the adult Gabriel just isn’t very convincing, only seeming like a rather stiff mask. Some more thought needed to go into the design here, and less on choreographing fight scenes with lots of cable work.
*. Perhaps the whole thing was meant less as an homage than as a joke. In either case I felt it to be a waste. The basic premise is great. Annabelle Wallis is well cast as the woman past the edge of a nervous breakdown. The plot point that gives us the first big twist (the crash through the ceiling) was terrific, and took me totally by surprise. But then everything just went to hell. And I don’t mean that in a good way.