During the dissemination of Malignant, the director James Wan did the basics and expected: said in an interview that the film is made for horror fans, “fans of the purest horror who have supported me”, and that maybe he didn’t have another equal chance to make such a crazy and reckless film. The first of many shocks that Malignant causes is that Wan isn’t just baiting his fans. This new work of yours, performed in the interval between a Aquaman and another, walks without the slightest shame through climates, situations and tropes enshrined in 100 years of horror cinema.
In this first partnership between Wan and the screenwriter Akela Cooper (who signs the script alone based on an argument by Wan, Cooper and ingrid bisu), we followed Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) from the moment their marriage reveals itself to be a routine of domestic violence. A slender figure grows in the shadows of the house like a 2000s Japanese horror haunt to take care of this issue; newly widowed, Madison now watches as the killings continue to happen, and from a victim she then becomes a suspect in the crimes.
At first, the j-horror is a noticeable inspiration, but there are others. The film generates interest, right away, because it seems to be combining a narrative trick slasher movie (the homicidal maniac movie of the late 1970s, early 1980s) with the supernatural thrillers Wan has taken part in with his possession movies over the past decade. This combination is what tries to hold the viewer’s attention in the initial third, because we keep trying to unravel if in the end Malignant will decide for slasher (with the weight of physical evidence, of burly, very real killers) or by the terror of spirits (with the elusive, immaterial character of specters that every film of this kind implies).
Instead of choosing between one style and another, suddenly Malignant it starts to incorporate other references, and when the spectator is least aware of it, he is involved in an anti-naturalistic staging game designed to enhance the effects of terror. This is in the canastrice patent of the unknown cast (the detective with her lollipop, the baffling tip of Zoë Bell like the truck driver inmate, the heartthrob detective’s super well-cut suit, the forensic assistant who seems straight out of Panic), is in the interior design (the real estate crisis is here but it seems that every covered space in Seattle is a huge gothic hall, starting with the police station), it is in the succession of wide angles that deform the view and in the drone travelings that they take advantage of the city’s typical rain to install a climate of estrangement that is out of place in reality.
That is, instead of playing by the rules given (preserving a naturalism and logic, choosing whether the film is a maniac or a ghost), from your half Malignant disarms all this ready expectation and starts to fearlessly embrace a mannerist register, dictated by effect. From that protocol that we expect, only the classic expository investigation remains, which in the third act will reveal the traumatic and past truth about the villain’s identity. Otherwise, Malignant is a festival of stylized escape valves ranging from expressionism (the play of shadows in photography) to giallo (the way synthesized music dictates a cadence of death).
And that initial question – in Madison’s woes, are we facing a “real” movie or a “imagined” movie? – it no longer makes sense, because in Wan’s many anti-naturalistic solutions the two things come to mean one: the artificial. Here fits the classic definition of expressionism in cinema, in which the architecture of the real lends itself to expressing a suggested, imagined horror. Real and projected come together, finally – even because it is impossible to assume as “real” these characters and situations that defy good taste and common sense. It is possible to say that this Malignant he practices a hot cinephilia exercise – on the basis of the most “real” matter possible, blood, the indisputable evidence of blood – which is justified beyond any promise of naturalism, and nullifies it.
When he says his film seeks “pure horror”, James Wan is probably referring to cinema by names like Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Darius Argento, John Carpenter and Clive Barker they did 40 something years ago. Not by chance, it is the period when the language of cinema – exhausted after realizing that all its rules were already defined and managed – turned to a mannerism that knew how to displace, recycle and reincorporate the rules of classic cinema in a self-referential register, often ironic. what James Wan does in Malignant it is to filter these references again, naturally and authoritatively – as if he were claiming, at this point in his career, a place alongside these major filmmakers, within their game.
Classification: 16 years
Duration: 113 min
Direction: James Wan
Road map: Akela Cooper
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young