Malignant ★★★★

Towards the end of Malignant, there is a frenzied phone conversation between Kekoa (George Young) and Sydney (Maddie Hasson). The dialogue is clunky and fully expository, and the performances are also off balance. It's basically no good, even as a quick scene. And at that point in the movie, I'm too enthralled and amused to notice, let alone mind.

Malignant is from the school of recent films like Get Out, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse; it's ostensible horror that mostly makes me laugh with joy about where it's deigning to venture next. It's much more deeply stupid and goofy in its plot than all of those movies combined, but there's a glee to its batty setpieces that throws me back to a communal feeling among fans, like excited whispers about the events of Ringu & The Ring in my youth.

Only James Wan is a much better director than Gore Verbinski, one who carries vision and aesthetic ambition into any type of project. Malignant feels the most Wan yet, the least compromised or collaboratively conceived. In its way it's a magnum opus about our very right to twisty pulp's potential as cinema as alluring as anything else, and more powerful as spectacle than all the IP-fests dominating the industry today (fittingly, Wan also delivered one of the most original of them in Aquaman).

Specifics? Malignant stars a phenomenally game Annabelle Wallis, with a supporting cast that includes Christian Clemenson, Zoë Bell, and otherwise basically nobody giving an acceptable or human performance. I wouldn't have guessed it before, but Wan crafts atmosphere that can make those performers' greenness a strength, like Bresson or some other deliberate user of non-actors, only for a goal of rapid-fire entertainment more than artistry.

The film has a fantastic approach to music and the rare horror visual idea that's at once new, funny, disquieting, and impossible to shake from the memory. I'll admit that on my inevitable revisits this rating is likelier to drop than rise, but I also bet it remains a hoot.

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