MALIGNANT Directed by James Wan USA 2021


Seattle. Madison, pregnant, lives with her violent and bipolar husband Derek. Besides dealing with her abusive husband, she suffers from waking nightmares of horrific murders. Madison discovers that the deaths she sees are real, feeling a connection between herself and the killer, almost like an umbilical cord, similar to the one with the baby she desires but cannot have. After her husband’s death, Madison and her sister turn to Detective Shaw, focusing the investigation on a third murder, witnessed by Madison, which leads straight to her past: her relationship with an imaginary friend named Gabriel.


James Wan is currently one of the most esteemed filmmakers of the past twenty years, known for spectacular successes such as Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. He even ventured into mainstream Hollywood, directing the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise in 2015 and Aquaman in 2018. This return to the genre that launched his career, Malignant, suggests that his mainstream experiences might not have entirely satisfied him, as he returns to contribute to and refine the horror genre he helped define.

Malignant pays homage to classic horror, particularly Italian horror, Japanese ghost stories, and some famous body horror films. The first part references the thrillers that made Bava and Argento famous (when Madison connects with the killer and witnesses the murders), then transitions into the mystery of Japanese horror before exploding into body horror in the final act. Wan demonstrates his directorial prowess here, supported by meticulous cinematography. The aesthetic surpasses even his most famous works, without sacrificing the technicalities essential to the story.

Malignant is a full-fledged horror film: when it needs to be brutal, it doesn’t hold back, showing everything that needs to be seen. It starts with a scene in the hospital where broken bones, copious blood, and violent deaths set the tone, then takes its time to weave a dreamlike act with characteristic jump scares and visionary moments reminiscent of De Palma, gradually revealing the killer’s profile, intriguing the audience as the story unfolds. Until the final revelation, which not only tells us who the killer is and why they act that way but also shows them in action in a triumphant display of splatter and body horror rarely seen in a mainstream film.

When Gabriel enters the scene, he literally destroys bodies and places. We’ll see limbs severed, eyes gouged out, rivers of blood, and violence aplenty. Here, Wan also showcases his action repertoire with swift and agile direction. Noteworthy are the scenes shown through videotapes, depicting the genesis of the creature and the subsequent remedy. Malignant draws from 1970s thriller/mystery but unmistakably evokes Cronenberg’s works like Dead Ringers and The Dead Zone, although the title that comes to mind most is undoubtedly Basket Case.

Malignant marks a heartfelt and “unrestrained” return to horror by James Wan, a title that raised eyebrows and even ridicule from some, yet still managed to achieve significant box office success. There are whispers of a sequel (despite the film’s ending appearing quite conclusive). The film is available on Netflix.


When Madison, locked in a cell with other inmates, gives Gabriel the opportunity to enter the scene, unleashing the violent ferocity of the killer.

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