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Director: James Wan (USA, China). Year of Release: 2021

1993. The Simeon Hospital for Medical Research. An old Gothic building straight out of Carry On Screaming. A female doctor is filming herself talking about her latest case, who is starting to get out of control. As she is speaking, she is called out – it’s happening again. Her patient has escaped his tethers and security is being sent in with a heavy sedation gun. The security man is swatted to the ground, and he is apparently not the first. A number of dead bodies are strewn on the ground.

Dr. Florence Weaver takes the sedation gun herself and manages to pacify her patient. She approaches him, wielding a knife. “Time to cut out the cancer”, she says.

Present Day. Seattle. Madison has come early from work because her pregnancy is giving her jip. Her husband Derek mumbles vague words of concern, but he’s more interested in watching the sport. When Madison seizes the remote and turns the telly off he starts to get narky- Maybe she shouldn’t be working. Indeed, maybe she should stop getting pregnant. How many miscarriages is this? How many times do I have to watch my children die inside of you?

When this charm offensive doesn’t seem to work, Derek shoves Madison against the wall. She falls to the floor. She has obviously hurt her head as her blood is streaked down the wall. When Derek goes downstairs to fetch some ice, Madison locks the bedroom door. It looks like Derek is going to be sleeping on the sofa tonight.

Derek is woken in the middle of the night. The blender starts whirring for no reason at all. The fridge door opens. There is some noise outside. The lights start flickering. Suddenly a large, dark figure with long, flowing hair emerges out of the shadows and hurls Derek to the floor. By the time the police arrive, Derek is dead. There is no sign of forced entry into the house. And Derek’s body is covered with massive welts which give the impression of him being hung upside down.

Madison cannot remember the first few years of her life, and learns that she was adopted, Her adopted mother brings out home movies of when she was pregnant with Madison’s half-sister Sydney. It’s Madison’s birthday – no friends have come along, as she has no friends at school. That’s not a problem as she has an imaginary friend called Gabriel, even if Gabriel is always making her behave badly. It may be worth noting that Dr Weaver’s patient was also called Gabriel.

Other murders start to happen. First there’s Dr. Weaver, followed by 2 other medical staff from the Simeon Hospital. We find that Gabriel was not their only patient. They were all treating Madison, who had been sent to the hospital by her birth mother. As the murders continue, Madison senses them as they are happening – it’s as if she’s watching Gabriel kill them in real time. She explains this to the cops. One cop replies: “Wait, you’re saying that the killer is…your imaginary friend?”.

It is at this point that Malignant starts to get seriously crazy. There is a fourth attempted murder – of a guide at the Seattle underground tour. Rather than killing her, Gabriel puts masking tape over her mouth and ties her to the ceiling of a random building. But, we learn, neither she nor the building is random. The guide is Madison’s birth mother and the building is the attic of Madison’s flat. This is the point at which you wonder what the fuck is going on here.

Then, about three quarters of the way through the film, there’s a plot twist that’s just so fucking obvious that I’m seriously annoyed with myself for not seeing it coming way in advance. But if Malignant is going to play to an audience as stupid as someone like me, it deserves to get away with this twist. Without it, Malignant would be simply silly. With it, everything make sense, at least within the film’s own internal logic. And I’m sick of horror films which just don’t make sense.

Malignant seems to have divided audiences. Horror fans have dismissed it for not being scary enough. To be fair, they have a point. But I personally never found being scary a sufficient reason for wanting to watch a film. Also, much of the plot doesn’t make sense, at least in a “why on earth are you entering a dark room when there’s a homicidal killer in there?” sense. Well, yeah, but the film takes us along with us for that sort of thing not to be really important – to me at least.

Malignant is what it is, and what it is is good enough for me. It’s the final film in a series of Giallo films, so I’ve learned to notice the black leather glove and coat and the elegant knife, although to be honest that sort of box ticking doesn’t do much for me. Far more importantly, it took us along with it so that we were concerned about what happened to whom, despite the obvious idiocy. This is not a film with a compelling manifesto, but as a piece of entertainment it’s all you need.

There is also a slight sense of female empowerment, both in Madison’s relationship with Derek and in some of the final scenes. This really isn’t properly worked through but it’s nice that they tried. Enjoy Malignant as fluff, and appreciate that even though it gives all the main running and fighting to the boys, at least it pays a little lip service to women’s emancipation. It’s not the best, but it’ll do while we’re waiting for the best to come.

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