Malignant (2021 film)
|Directed by||James Wan|
|Screenplay by||Akela Cooper|
|Edited by||Kirk Morri|
|Music by||Joseph Bishara|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$34 million|
Malignant is a 2021 American horror film directed by James Wan from a screenplay by Akela Cooper, based on a story by Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Cooper. The film stars Annabelle Wallis as a woman who begins to have visions of people being murdered, only to realize the events are happening in real life. Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, and Jacqueline McKenzie also star.
Malignant was theatrically released in the United States on September 10, 2021, by Warner Bros. Pictures under the New Line Cinema banner; it also streamed on HBO Max for one month. The film has grossed $34 million against a budget of $40 million and received mixed reviews from critics.
In 1993, Dr. Florence Weaver and her colleagues Victor Fields and John Gregory treat psychiatric patient Gabriel at Simion Research Hospital. Gabriel has special powers, able to control electricity and broadcast his thoughts via speakers. One night, Gabriel turns violent and kills several staff members of the institution.
Twenty-seven years later, Madison Lake, a pregnant woman living in Seattle, returns home to her abusive husband, Derek Mitchell, after her pregnancy causes her to feel ill at work. During an argument, Derek smashes Madison's head against a wall, which causes her to bleed at the point of impact, after which she locks herself in the bedroom and falls asleep. Madison later wakes up to find Derek's dead body after having had a dream of a man entering their house and violently killing him. The killer, who is still in the house, attacks Madison, rendering her unconscious.
The next morning, Madison wakes up in a hospital and is informed by her sister, Sydney, that her unborn baby did not survive the attack. After being interviewed by police detective Kekoa Shaw and his partner Regina Moss, Madison returns home. There, Madison reveals to Sydney that she was adopted at eight years old. The killer kidnaps a woman running a Seattle Underground tour. Madison has another vision, this time of the killer murdering Dr. Weaver.
During their investigation, Shaw and Moss discover a photo of Madison as a child in Weaver's house and learn that Weaver specialized in child reconstructive surgery. Madison and her sister approach the police after Madison has another vision, this time of the killer murdering Dr. Fields. The killer contacts Madison and reveals himself to be Gabriel, Madison's childhood imaginary friend. She and her sister visit their mother, Jeanne, to learn more. Madison realizes that Gabriel was not her imaginary friend but someone real to whom she spoke during her childhood. Shaw finds a link between the doctors and Madison, which leads him to discover Dr. Gregory's dead body.
The detectives enlist the help of a psychiatric hypnotherapist, hoping to unlock Madison's memories. Madison recalls that her birth name is Emily May and that Gabriel wanted her to kill her unborn sister. She came close to doing it but was able to stop herself. The police arrest Madison when the kidnapped woman falls from the attic in her home, revealing that Gabriel was living inside her house. The woman is Serena May, Madison's birth mother. Sydney visits the now-abandoned Simion hospital and finds that Gabriel is Emily's twin brother who lives within her body as an extreme version of a "teratoma", sharing the same brain and spinal cord as Emily. During Emily's childhood, Gabriel appeared as a half-formed child facing out of Emily's back. Weaver operated on Emily and was able to remove all of the tumor except for the brain. He was dormant after her childhood but woke up when Derek hit her head against the wall. Gabriel's face now emerges from the back of Madison's skull and operates her body backwards when he takes control, explaining the killer's unnatural movements and the upside-down fingerprints at his crime scenes.
Gabriel, provoked by fellow inmates in the lockup, takes full control of Madison's body, slaughters them and almost the entire precinct with superhuman strength and agility, and eventually leaves. Sydney and Shaw intercept him at the hospital where Serena is recovering from her captivity. The duo are attacked by Gabriel. Sydney informs Madison that Gabriel is the cause of her miscarriages because he was feeding off her fetuses. Angry at the revelation, Madison wakes up and takes back control of her body and transports both Gabriel and herself to a black mindscape. There, she locks an enraged Gabriel behind bars and says she will be ready after he promises to escape one day.
Back in the hospital and in full control of her body, Madison lifts a hospital bed pinning Sydney to the wall. The pair hug as Madison affirms that even though she was adopted and is not related by blood, she will always love her as a sister. As the two embrace, Serena looks on happily, while the electric humming that accompanied Gabriel's attacks can be heard faintly.
- Annabelle Wallis as Madison Lake Mitchell
- Mckenna Grace as young Madison Lake
- Maddie Hasson as Sydney Lake
- George Young as Detective Kekoa Shaw
- Michole Briana White as Detective Regina Moss
- Jean Louisa Kelly as Jane Doe / Serena May
- Madison Wolfe as young Serena May
- Susanna Thompson as Jeanne Lake
- Jake Abel as Derek Mitchell
- Jacqueline McKenzie as Dr. Florence Weaver
- Christian Clemenson as Dr. Victor Fields
- Amir Aboulela as Dr. Gregory
- Ingrid Bisu as CST Winnie
- Ruben Pla as Officer Rubin
- Josh Rutgers as the referee
- Jon Lee Brody as Officer Lee
- Dan Ramos as Basco
- Paula Marshall as Beverly
- Zoë Bell as Scorpion
- Ray Chase as Gabriel (voice)
- Marina Mazepa as Gabriel (physical performer)
- Andy Bean as Frank
- Patricia Velásquez as Nurse Velasquez
In July 2019, it was announced that James Wan would direct the film at New Line Cinema from a screenplay by Akela Cooper and J. T. Petty, based on an original story he wrote alongside his wife Ingrid Bisu. Cooper ultimately received sole screenplay credit, with Wan, Bisu, and Cooper sharing "story by" billing; Wan served as a producer alongside Michael Clear under his Atomic Monster banner. That September, Wan officially revealed the title as Malignant, with Bloody Disgusting reporting the film would be in line with a giallo film. Bisu's fascination with medical anomalies led her to read about Edward Mordake, which inspired the Gabriel character.
On October 24, 2019, Wan clarified that the film is not based on his graphic novel Malignant Man, stating, "It's definitely not a superhero film [Malignant Man is a superhero]. Malignant is an original thriller not based off any existing IP." He cited the influence of Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento, particularly his films Tenebrae (1982), Phenomena (1985), and Trauma (1993).
In August 2019, Annabelle Wallis, George Young, and Jake Abel were cast in the film. In September 2019, Maddie Hasson, Michole Briana White, and Jacqueline McKenzie were also added, as was Mckenna Grace in March 2020.
Malignant was theatrically released in a few international markets (including France) on September 1, 2021, and then in the United States on September 10, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures under the New Line Cinema banner. It was originally scheduled for release on August 14, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was removed from the release schedule in March 2020. As part of its plans for all of its 2021 films, Warner Bros. is streaming Malignant simultaneously on the HBO Max service for a period of one month, after which the film will be removed until the normal home media release schedule period. The film is also released at the video-on-demand through digital streaming on October 22, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on November 30, 2021.
In the United States and Canada, Malignant was projected to gross $5–9 million from 3,500 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $2 million on its first day, and went on to debut to $5.6 million, finishing third at the box office. It dropped 51% to $2.7 million in its second weekend, finishing fifth.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 76% based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Although Malignant isn't particularly scary, director James Wan's return to horror contains plenty of gory thrills—and a memorably bonkers twist." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 51 out of 100 based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 59% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 38% saying they would definitely recommend it.
Andrew Barker of Variety wrote, "It's hard to say whether a film this bonkers 'works' or not, but it's impossible not to admire both the craft and the extravagant bad taste behind its go-for-broke energy." Meagan Navarro of Bloody Disgusting rated the film 3.5 out of 5 and said, "It's silly, it's outrageous, and it's a blast." Josh Millican of Dread Central gave the film 4 out of 5 and called it "the best horror movie of the year." Michael Gingold of Rue Morgue described the film as having "WTF energy" but criticized the implausibility of the plot, saying, "Too often, it's hard to know whether Wan and co. are kidding or not." A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club gave the film a grade of B, describing it as "a zany psychodramatic creepfest that, here and there, veers into gory action hilarity, as though Pazuzu had taken over the body of a Batman movie". Charles Bramesco of The Guardian gave the film a score of 3 out of 5 stars, writing: "around the midway point... the script shifts gears into an agreeable register of B-movie lunacy, but it takes too much of the nearly two-hour run time to get there".
Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter was more critical, writing: "The film might have been outrageously bizarre fun if it displayed any humor or ironic self-consciousness, but everything is played so straight that viewers will find themselves laughing not with the film, but at it." Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press gave the film a score of 1 out of 4 stars, describing it as "simply ridiculous" and writing: "If you must see Malignant, a theater might honestly be the best bet. That way at least you can laugh along in utter shock with your fellow theater-goers." Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com also gave the film 1 out of 4 stars, describing it as "a horror movie that is as long as it is underwhelming."
Some critics suggested the film was intended as parody or self-parody. Ian Linn of Study Breaks wrote, "Malignant seems to take these tropes of Wan’s earlier works to such extreme lengths it becomes difficult to see them as anything other than deliberate self-parody." Herpai Gergely of theGeek wrote, "Seeing Malignant, one almost wonders if, on the contrary, this joker is not knowingly laughing in the face of these new audiovisual actors. Indeed, everything in the film rhymes with parody. From the detective duo – reminiscent of Danny Pino and Tracie Thoms in Cold Case – to the script’s development, which resembles an entirely freewheeling Saw. Particular camera angles also give the impression of being too much as fuck, like this unbridled shot above the creepy haunted house. It’s hard to imagine that a brain capable of conceiving a horror film as deft as Insidious could produce such grotesque images without an ulterior motive."
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