Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is paralysed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities...
Right away, 'Malignant' makes itself clear that this isn't going to be some thought-provoking, subtextual horror about weighty emotional themes or wider societal issues. It's a cheap rip of slasher horror, borrowing heavily from Italian giallo horrors made by the likes of Dario Argento. In fact, the overbearing music, the strong use of the colour red, the black leather gloves on the killer, all allude to James Wan's intent here - essentially, he's making his very own giallo horror.
As concepts go, 'Malignant' is as silly as it gets and that's very much in keeping with the genre. Even American offshoots like 'Eyes of Laura Mars' are thrown into the mix for good measures. Likewise, the way that Wan has such a sharp command of visuals is equally adherent to it. There's an entire scene told from a top-down perspective, another one has Annabelle Wallis' character frozen in place as the surroundings shift around her with the help of clever editing and, later, CGI.
There are more than a few times in 'Malignant' where you'll outright laugh at how obvious it all is, and more than that, that it's being done with that intent. The dialogue feels so hackneyed and silly that you'd almost think they're in on the joke with the cast going along with it because that's what is being called for. That said, it's not as though they're winking at the camera as they rattle through some of the clunky exposition either. Instead, 'Malignant' is caught in the trap of its own making. Does it expect the audience to know that it's being self-aware, or does it simply want to play the same beats and rhythms as before and hope they won't notice?
To her credit, Annabelle Wallis gives of herself fully and makes you believe how terrifying it all is. The special effects, both practical and CGI, are effective and Joseph Bishara's synth-tinged music keeps up the video nasty vibe that it's trying to replicate at every moment.
'Malignant' does have a surplus amount of scares and the practical effects are just the right amount of silly and gory. Likewise, the way in which Wan pulls out all the stops and goes for broke throughout it is refreshing. There isn't a hint of subtlety or restraint in this. What's being served up is, of course, a hot mess of a horror movie. It's splashy, it's over the top, there isn't a hint of subtlety to any of it, but at the same time, you're taken in by how entertaining it is. Wan knows how to make gleefully gory horror movies, and in 'Malignant', he offers up his own cover version of some equally gleeful horrors.
Delightfully silly, excessively violent, 'Malignant' is an energetic rip of slasher horror with knowing reverence to its forebearers.