DISSECTION: Malignant (2021)

First things first, please read the review of Malignant for full context. Refrain from continuing if you haven’t seen the movie. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Now let’s revisit the writers’ indecision around the supernatural. In the first act, the viewers are purposely misled to assume the evil force that’s haunting (and killing people connected to) Madison is some paranormal apparition. It moves in ways that humans shouldn’t, steps in and out of her subconscious, and has the ability to taunt people via electricity and radio waves.

Later, after the discovery that Madison’s birth name is Emily, the creature is revealed to be Gabriel, who is not her “imaginary friend.” Rather, Gabriel is Madison’s parasitic twin, an overdeveloped result of your run-of-the-mill fetal absorption by the dominant twin. The film immediately pivots to presenting this as a medical phenomenon, clumsily rationalized by a team of doctors (the lead of whom is British, to emphasize her intelligence) who have danced around ethics to raise and experiment on the deformed twins in a research facility. It almost seems like the setup for a sitcom—a surgeon trying to navigate the antics of a bloodthirsty tumor-baby who just won’t stop murdering orderlies. (“You’ve been a bad boy, Gabriel!”)

It would seem now that the writers want to turn this into a psychological horror. Gabriel’s not a demon; he’s an anomaly. “Fetus in fetu” is a real thing—but Malignant takes this in a wild direction when the doctors perform an operation to remove Gabriel from Madison (inevitably killing him) then awkwardly fold up what’s left of his face and tuck it under her skull, leaving him “dormant” rather than dead, and conveniently erasing her memory. It’s a great opportunity for Madison’s adoptive parents to change the twelve-year-old’s name; she’ll never know! Too bad Gabriel wakes up when his sister sustains a head injury—and his memory is unfortunately intact.

There’s a whole medical textbook’s worth of things wrong with everything at this point but, Malignant keeps forging ahead. When Gabriel takes hold of his adult sister’s body, her scalp literally peels apart for his face to emerge and her bones snap in the wrong direction since he’s backward-facing. He exhibits the kind of strength usually reserved for mothers in distress, but even more impressive for him since he’s nothing more than a sentient, overgrown tumor.

After Gabriel has completed his bloody to-do list for the day, he recedes back into Madison’s scalp which fuses together without any scarification, and her bones crack back into their normal position. Good as new! And yet, all the characters seem to deny any sort of supernatural intervention. It’s noted in the medical files that Madison’s adoptive sister conveniently found in the abandoned research facility, after all.

While Madison nicknames her brother “the devil,” nobody else seems to believe her. At least until the bodies pile up in fantastical bloodbaths (that jail scene?!). Hopefully the lawyer who represented Arne Cheyenne Johnson, another victim who was recently used as the devil’s instrument within Wan’s horror universe, is still practicing.

Now that Madison has stashed her unruly twin back inside her scalp without any fractures to prove her innocence, she’s going to need a strong defense for a body count well in the twenties.

About the Author

Melaina Kris is a lifelong lover of horror and the founder of The Final Girl Reviews. She lives in Chicago where she manages an architecture magazine by daylight.

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