MALIGNANT movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros./New Line Cinema

MALIGNANT movie poster | ©2021 Warner Bros./New Line Cinema

Rating: R
Stars: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michole Briana White, Jake Abel, Ingrid Bisu, Mckenna Grace
Writer: Akela Cooper, story by James Wan & Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper
Director: James Wan
Distributor: Warner Bros./New Line Cinema
Release Date: September 10, 2021

MALIGNANT is a word that can mean malevolent or, in medical terms, virulent/highly infectious. While MALIGNANT won’t be anybody’s idea of a medical drama, the title is apt.

In a prologue, we’re at the Simion Research Hospital in 1993. Gabriel has just escaped from his holding cell. He is malicious, violent, and so able to kill bloodily with his bare hands that one of the movie’s mysteries is why he eventually decides he needs a weapon. He also seems to be able to telepathically control electricity.

Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie), in charge of Gabriel’s case, understandably feels that she’s had enough and declares, “It’s time to cut out the cancer.”

Flash forward to present-day Seattle. Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant. Her husband Derek (Jake Abel) is viciously abusive, punching Madison in the stomach and throwing her against the wall so hard that her head bleeds. When the electricity flickers and something very bad happens to Derek later that evening, we don’t mourn him.

Recovering in the hospital, Madison feels that even Derek didn’t deserve his fate, but she’s a lot more upset about her miscarriage (not her first). Her loyal younger sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) stays at Madison’s side. Two detectives, Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White, a standout), arrive to question Madison. Given Madison’s marital history, Moss is naturally suspicious of the new widow, though Shaw – and we – think someone else was in the house.

Then there’s another murder, which Madison witnesses mentally. There’s a very cool transitional effect that gets her (and us) from one setting to another as she sees what Gabriel is doing, though she’s powerless to stop it.

The overarching plot question is, what is Madison’s connection to Gabriel? The related questions are, how are the answers to this going to be found, and what will the body count be by then?

Director James Wan and screenwriter Akela Cooper, working from a story they crafted with Ingrid Bisu (who also plays a coroner), keep us guessing with some clever misdirection. Try to go in without anybody spoiling the major plot twist. Special makeup effects are excellent, contributing to the overall impact.

Wan, of course, also knows how to set up both eeriness and gore. The tone here, intriguingly, is a bit more Hammer horror than, say, INSIDIOUS.

On the flip side, MALIGNANT gets much more action-oriented than we may be expecting, to the extent that it interferes with the scares.

However, there’s an ongoing issue in that the filmmakers, having shrewdly worked out the plot, didn’t feel the need to put quite as much effort into characterization and dialogue. For all the gore, twists and smart ideas, there’s something a little flat about MALIGNANT, which keeps it from being as good as it could be.

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