James Wan makes his directorial return to horror with the recently released ‘Malignant.’ Wan, who has made a name for himself in horror with successful films like ‘Saw,’ ‘The Conjuring,’ and ‘Insidious,’ has accumulated story and producing credits in some of the biggest horror films to come out in recent years.
He adds to his horror curriculum vitae with ‘Malignant,’ a film that takes its viewers down many different paths before its shocking conclusion.
The story takes place over two separate periods, with the first focusing on a violent psychiatric patient named Gabriel who, in addition to being able to manipulate electronic devices, racks up quite a large body count in the opening minutes of the film.
Eventually, we get a fleeting glimpse of Gabriel through a curtain and it’s evident that there is something wrong with him. One’s initial impression is that he appears to be something not from this world.
In this first period, we are also treated to the movie’s first misdirect (just the first of many to come).
Following this opening scene, we then travel roughly twenty-seven years into the future, where we’re introduced to Madison Lake, the film’s lead protagonist. This is where ‘Malignant’ starts to feel like a James Wan movie, as we soon see what appears to be a shadowy figure moving through Madison’s home – a figure that is there one moment and then gone the next.
If you thought this movie was going to be another James Wan haunted house story at this point, you couldn’t be more wrong, because this is where ‘Malignant’ decides to take another turn.
Soon, the shadowy figure from Madison’s home starts kidnapping and claiming victims. Unbeknownst to Madison, she appears to have developed a psychic link with the mysterious creature, resulting in her psychically traveling to where the killer is targeting his victims and then watching in horror as he kills again.
The killer soon reveals himself to be the aforementioned Gabriel. The only problem is that it’s soon established that Gabriel was Madison’s childhood imaginary friend. What, then, did we see in the opening of the film?
The plot is further laid out when we learn that Madison was a patient at the psychiatric hospital and that, while she was growing up, her parents would catch her speaking to Gabriel over a toy phone. During their conversations, he would tell Madison to kill the unborn baby her mother was currently pregnant with.
This is where ‘Malignant’ starts to develop a sort of ‘Fight Club’ vibe, as you’re left wondering if Madison and Gabriel are the same person. It doesn’t help her case when it’s discovered that every victim Gabriel has killed up to this point was once a former doctor of Madison’s.
Madison is soon taken into police custody and this is where the movie takes its final turn. It’s here where you, as the viewer, have to decide if you think this movie is brilliant for its bold choices or if it completely goes off the rails.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead! We have now reached the point where we have to discuss the big reveal of the film.
This results in Madison and Gabriel sharing the same brain and spinal cord. The doctors who treated Madison in the hospital specialized in child reconstructive surgery and were responsible for removing the “tumor” from Madison, but they had to leave Gabriel’s brain behind.
While in police custody, it’s revealed that Gabriel is a parasitic twin that was growing out of the back of Madison. Remember that alien-looking creature through the curtain?
In the film, Gabriel is referred to as a rare type of “teratoma” known as a “fetus within a fetus.” This is similar to the case of a “parasitic twin” in which one twin ends up being absorbed by the other twin in the womb.
The two beings have been sharing the same body, with Gabriel’s face coming out of the back of Madison’s skull. This is why she has been having visions of being present when the killer is murdering his victims: because, in reality, she was there, but when Gabriel takes over, she gets placed into a dream-like state.
This also reveals why the killer appears to move unnaturally, because Gabriel controls the body in reverse, with the limbs bending in the opposite direction. This also explains why Gabriel is often witnessed “crab-walking” in the movie.
Following the surgery to remove Gabriel, Madison developed an almost amnesia-like account of the events, completely forgetting that he ever existed.
As the movie explodes into its final chapter, we are given a display of the inhuman abilities that Gabriel appears to possess. It’s also here that Madison and Gabriel have to fight for the ability to control the body they both inhabit.
‘Malignant’ is a movie that takes many elements from other films. While watching the movie, you see so many similarities to ‘Basket Case,’ a movie that told the story of a man and his deformed, formerly conjoined twin brother who are now seeking revenge against the doctors who separated them.
Along with ‘Basket Case,’ the movie also clearly takes its inspiration from the story of Edward Mordake, a man who was born with a face on the back of his head. Mordake would claim that the face would tell him bad things, things that “one would only speak about in hell.”
This carries heavily into the movie, as Gabriel also tells Madison to perform horrific deeds, including the previously mentioned killing of her sister. In the film, Madison also refers to Gabriel as “the devil” at one point.
In that film, a writer finds that an alias he once used as a pen name has somehow taken on a physical form. He then starts to terrorize the writer’s life by leaving threatening messages and killing people around him.
The writer soon believes he shares a psychic link with the killer, only to have it revealed that the two are, in fact, the same person. Like in ‘Malignant,’ the killer is a parasitic twin that was absorbed in the womb; the two identities have been sharing the same body without the writer’s knowledge.
‘Malignant’ is a movie that starts as one thing and, throughout the film, takes several unexpected turns to end where it does. ‘Malignant’ is a movie I recommend you check out.
Although the big twist does not come until roughly eighty minutes into the hour and fifty-one-minute movie, the film never suffers from any lag. The frequent on-screen presence of Gabriel leaves you continually guessing as to his true identity. The unnatural way the character moves and the violent murder scenes will be enough to satisfy your horror needs.
On a scale of 1-5 stars, I give this movie 4 stars.
‘Malignant’ is a movie that is destined to become a “cult classic” and I don’t think it will be long before the character of Gabriel starts to become a popular figure in horror.
‘Malignant’ is directed by Wan and written by Akela Cooper along with Wan and Ingrid Bisu.
It stars Annabelle Wallis as Madison Mitchell, Maddie Hasson as Sydney Lake, George Young as Kekoa Shaw, Michole Briana White as Regina Moss, Jean Louisa Kelly as Serena, Susanna Thompson as Jeanne, Jacqueline McKenzie as Dr. Florence Weaver, Christian Clemenson as Dr. Victor Fields, Amir AboulEla as Dr. Gregory, Jake Abel as Derek Mitchell, and Paula Marshall as Beverly.
I have come here to chew bubblegum and write horror, and I’m all out of bubblegum.