‘Malignant’ Review: James Wan’s Return to Horror Disappoints

Malignant Annabelle Wallis
ANNABELLE WALLIS as Madison in New Line Cinema, Starlight Media Inc. and My Entertainment Inc.’s original horror thriller MALIGNANT, an Atomic Monster production, a Warner Bros Pictures release (Photo © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc)

Please know this, I really wanted to like Malignant. James Wan’s The Conjuring is one of my three favorite horror films of all time – the other two being The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Wan’s proven he’s capable of delivering a compelling story that scares the pants off the audience, however Malignant is neither compelling nor scary.

Malignant follows a battered wife whose husband is killed off (yes!) early on. Madison (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle) – the wife – has a major head injury yet continues to go about her life, remaining in the home where her husband was brutally murdered despite a series of clues that suggest she should pack up and leave post haste.

In short order, Madison begins experiencing terrifying waking dreams in which she’s a silent witness to gruesome events. Madison realizes there’s no way to escape these visions and teams up with the police to stop the murderer’s reign of terror. As little pieces of her disturbing backstory are revealed, the hunt for a serial murderer with a penchant for pummeling victims into unrecognizable blobs heats up.

A disappointing misstep from a filmmaker who knows how to thrill us, Malignant feels like a decent Creepshow episode both in production design and makeup/creature effects. The surprise twist, which some will insist is the reason to see James Wan’s return to the horror genre, feels less like something you’d expect from a filmmaker of his ilk and more like an up-and-comer unsure of how to build to a gruesome, no holds barred finale. Obviously, it’s necessary to not directly address what goes down in the third act but suffice it to say the body count is huge yet equal to the laughs generated by the film’s big bad.

Maybe my expectations were too high. And just maybe I’m missing the point of Malignant. It’s tonally unlike anything Wan’s done before and unexpectedly goofy. Yes, you read that right. It’s a dollop of gory goofiness, a side dish minus the main course.

Malignant’s a throwback to the ‘80s and may ultimately become a kitschy classic. If it does, well fine then. I’ll check it out again 10 years from now when my expectations for entertainment are basement-level and might agree I missed the boat the first time around.

If you’re determined to give Malignant a go, toss out any preconceived notions of what you’re in for. It’s nothing like you’d expect and unlikely to move ahead of Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, or The Conjuring on lists of the best James Wan horror films.


MPAA Rating: R for language, gruesome images, and strong horror violence

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Release Date: September 10, 2021

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures