jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
In terms of its filmmaking, both in showcasing Wan’s formalist capabilities and all-around intentions , Malignant feels incredibly similar to Wan’s most popular film The Conjuring in that both films are amazing demonstrations of Wan’s understanding of genre and more specifically, the Horror genre and the subgenres Horror has; in a classical sense, The Conjuring is the greatest haunted house film of the 21st Century because Wan is crafting something not only rooted in his own technique – often times a controversial one – but also highlighting films from the haunted house film heyday in the 70s: an emphasis on silence and the spaces between each rooms. Malignant is Wan’s understanding of the other 70s Horror subgenre – Italian filmmaking, more specifically the Giallo and other visceral films produced from the country – and it’s such a tenderly made work when looking at it as an homage. When not looking at it as such, it’s still an incredible work.
Wan, perhaps taking a note from the great Dario Argento, makes an emphasis on certain colors to enunciate the themes and tones of the film: in the case of Malignant, the color red, in some fashion, oozes its way everywhere, even in the darkest moments of the film to highlight frustration and desire and the film’s brutal depiction of survival, the latter coming heavily into play when Wan focuses more intensively on Madison’s upbringing. There's also a certain tonal element that Horror films seem to be missing nowadays: the focus in wanting to be strictly a genre piece and how filmmakers neglect that in favor of creating something “with commentary,” which happens to be as blatant and mind-numbing as it is typing it all out. That’s not to say that Wan is making a film that’s soulless – the film is hardly that: it’s a really draining film that plays with family and the past in a cryptic way – but it’s the subtly of the film that makes me really fall in love with it, much like the great Italian Horror poets.
Shockingly enough, I think there is in fact a correlation between Malignant and Wan’s previous – and best – film Aquaman. If anything is evident, both films are about cinema in some way. I've touched base on why I think Aquaman is one of the great genre films of its decade – and if that praise wasn’t enough, one of the best Superhero films ever made – but I think Wan’s love for cinema continues to spread through this work, especially in how Wan moves the camera and cuts; one of Wan’s greatest elements is his technical prowess – not being afraid to try anything to evoke some sort of reaction, his fluid movement – but also in how he uses his references and cinema’s history in influencing how he creates his films: the film’s overuse of music and, at times, melodramatic plot points are reminiscent of films that have obviously influenced Wan and genres that have changed his way in creating Horror films. If Aquaman is Wan’s homage to cinema, then Malignant is Wan’s homage to the genre that got him started.
Thematically, the film reaches elements of familial conflict that mirror many of the great 70s Horror-Drama films: Brian De Palma’s Sisters comes to mind but more prominently is actually a recent viewing for me in David Cronenberg’s The Brood. There is a clear dissection of family that’s prominent in a lot of Wan’s films and I think in Malignant, there is this clear, almost warm(?) examination of the importance of family but also notes how harmful individuals can become for us in our lives. But more importantly, at least for me, is how Wan weaves grief and loss with innocence and pain through Madison and Gabriel’s story: one finds only disgust with herself as her life continues to fall apart and things are revealed to be horrifying even without the horror and the other uses his anger and frustration in seeking revenge on those who wronged him; Wan sympathizes with both broken individuals’ plights (and I think noting that Gabriel is terrifying, he’s hardly a villain in the common sense).
And I think in all of its visceral and chaotic and upsetting energy, the film is perhaps the best Horror film we’ve gotten in quite a long time. I’d love to see this again and see more Horror films regress back from trying to be assertive with their “About Something” attitude and choose to subtly achieve this goal through the craft. Wan gets another massive W in my opinion!