I’m not a big fan of James Wan. That’s my hot take, as he’s one of the more prolific creators in the horror genre, known for box office successes accompanied by major fanbases with the Saw and Insidious franchises. He reimagined the tales of supernatural super scammers, Ed and Lorraine Warren through the Conjuring Universe, the first of which prompted me to wear my hoodie backwards in the movie theater, since I was so freaked out. (Supernatural horror is my Achilles’ heel.)
So where do I get off criticizing him, right? To be clear, I don’t mean to bash Wan himself. He’s obviously a fellow horror buff, a hard worker, and knows how to create a wild story. But the problem I have is with the execution. Most everything of his I’ve seen eventually goes off the rails or loses me in the final act when he peppers in the cringiest of dialogue.
At the risk of sounding like a douche, I prefer quieter, more thoughtful horror (with the exception of old slasher movies) and that’s just not really Wan’s game. His penchant for the excessive twists and cheesy reveals is what attracts many viewers to his titles, and honestly, I traded in eye rolls for eyebrow raises when I sat down to watch the much anticipated Malignant, released last week.
Let’s set the scene. A meek woman named Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is plagued by deadly nightmares that keep coming true. I’ll keep it vague because the less you know, the better. While the plot is not without its predictability in some places, you’re in for a wild ride—get ready to do doughnuts in your proverbial car.
Wan—whether or not it was intentional—pays homage to himself throughout Malignant. It’s a visually stunning shoutout to his previous works, blending elements from at least all his movies I’ve seen, and possibly more from the ones I haven’t. There’s a scene with a woman hanging from an attic rafter surrounded by torturous-looking equipment (an obvious nod to Saw), an intruder who scuttles by in the protagonist’s periphery (the famous Tip Toe Through The Tulips scene in Insidious) and seems to vanish once a light is turned on (the whole plot of Lights Out), and murders blamed on “the devil” (his last film was The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It).
If you’re a hardcore fan of Wan and his franchises, you’ll probably be thrilled by the amount of easter eggs, albeit left in plain sight. At the very least, it would make for a great drinking game. There is an original story if you sift through all the callbacks, but it seems like Wan (along with cowriters Ingrid Bisu and Akela Cooper) couldn’t decide between a psychological and supernatural project, so they opted to try both, despite these perspectives clashing loudly in the final act.
In spite of its contradictory elements (and the aforementioned unbearable dialogue) what I do enjoy about Malignant is that it simply is enjoyable. It’s fun, it’s dumb, it’s over the top. Wan clearly had a good time making it and continues his quest to explore the black-and-white mindset of good versus evil, human versus the devil, and where one begins and the other ends—in the most ridiculous way possible.