This article contains spoilers.
If you are a fan of “The Conjuring” Universe, James Wan’s newest film, “Malignant,” should be next on your watch list. However, if you are expecting the usual ghost in your closet fears that come after watching the director’s work, prepare yourself for something different. Wan tackles a new concept with “Malignant,” aiming for psychological and physical horror rather than the supernatural element present in his other films. Despite this change, Wan stays true to his affinity for plot twists and shock value.
“Malignant” begins in true James Wan fashion, opening up with a flashback to 1993 with Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) and her colleagues as they try to contain their patient, Gabriel, (Marina Mazepa as physical performer) who kills several of the staff members at the psychiatric facility. This harrowing and gory sequence leaves the audience questioning what they just watched and what they are about to witness during the rest of the film.
The movie then cuts to the present day and follows the story of Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant woman living in Seattle with her abusive husband, Derek Mitchell (Jake Abel). It is revealed that Madison has suffered multiple miscarriages, causing tension in her marriage. Amid a heated argument, Derek throws Madison against the wall, causing her to suffer a head injury that persists throughout the film.
That night, Derek is brutally murdered in the house, launching an investigation by Detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White). When Madison wakes up in the hospital, it is learned that her unborn baby didn’t survive the altercation that left her husband dead.
Much like “The Conjuring” Universe, the audience assumes that the murder was caused by a supernatural force. But the film takes a psychological turn when Madison begins having vivid visions of other murders taking place. The brutality of the murder scenes leaves even the most seasoned horror fans stunned. The over the top slaying and blood spatter provides the perfect balance of camp and terror.
When Dr. Weaver winds up murdered, Shaw and Moss discover a picture of Madison as a child in the doctor’s house and learn her real name is Emily May. It is revealed that Madison was actually adopted and has no recollection of the first eight years of her life, which she spent at Simion Research Hospital.
The majority of the film focuses on this backstory as Madison’s visions become more intense and information regarding her past relationship to the supposed killer, Gabriel, is revealed. The heavy focus on the plot is a different and out-of-the box move for Wan, who has developed a fan base for his over the top jumpscares and shocking demonic stories. Despite being plot-heavy, the anxiety and suspense that horror fans yearn for remains present. As the story deepens, the audience is left wondering how it will come together and who or what is behind the killings.
Through tapes found at the now abandoned Simion Research Hospital by Madison’s sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), it is revealed that the elusive Gabriel is actually a severe teratoma. What Madison thought was a malicious imaginary friend from her childhood, was a half-formed child that came out of Madison’s back and shared the same brain and spinal cord with her.
The plot twist comes at the perfect time. It leaves enough time for the build up and suspense that we expect from a horror movie, but also enough time to watch it all come together seamlessly.
With surgery, the doctors were able to remove most of Gabriel, the teratoma, and isolate the rest of it into Madison’s brain. When Derek hit Madison’s head against the wall, Gabriel was awakened. Due to Gabriel’s vengeful and parasitic nature, he was able to possess Madison’s body and use superhuman strength to kill. This plot twist tells the audience two things- one, being that Wan did not fail to deliver on a twist that leaves the audience with their jaw on the ground, and, two being that the killer is nothing supernatural. If you were waiting for something different from Wan, this is the plot twist for you, but if you were anticipating an epic showdown with Ed and Lorraine Warren against yet another demonic force, you may be left even more shocked!
The majority of “Malignant” follows the psychological downfall of Madison as Gabriel which leaves those who love the gore of horror wanting more. If that’s the case, have no fear, because the last thirty minutes of the movie will have you shielding your eyes and wondering how the human body can contain that much blood.
The film concludes with a bloody battle that eventually leaves Madison triumphant. She is able to lock Gabriel into a part of her brain and reclaim autonomy over her body and strength. If there’s one thing horror fans love, it’s a final girl who saves the day.
While “Malignant” is a different take on horror in comparison to what James Wan fans are used to, it still delivers on all the unsettling aspects and twists for which fans have been waiting.
“Malignant” is currently playing in theaters and will be available to stream on HBO Max until Oct. 10.