I came out of James Wan’s Aquaman a little more on the bright side than others, it was fine enough. If it’s the worst movie he ever makes, we’re good. But Aquaman almost missed the point of hiring James Wan, which is you gotta let him be the master craftsman he is. Getting bogged down in CGI dilutes the nutty brilliance of Wan that the horror genre has allowed him to fully indulge in. And after spending years away in the CGI oceans, he’s back to remind us he’s one of the best horror filmmakers there’s been. There is just a craft and energy unique to him that can’t be replicated, It’s no coincidence that every Conjuring sequel/spinoff that he has not directed has been awful. But with all that said, let Wan make 5 Aquamans if it gives him the freedom and blank check to make 10 more bonkers works on the level of Malignant. Malignant is an absolute wild wonder, an unapologetically goofy miracle that’s one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie this year. It’s a truly modern giallo film, perhaps the first to successfully modernize the formula and tropes.
Malignant follows Madison (Annabelle Wallis), who begins seeing visions of murders across the city as they happen, the reason stemming from a part of her upbringing she can’t remember. Know absolutely nothing else starting this film, go in as blind as possible. Stop reading this review if it helps.
I appreciate that whether it’s intentional or not, the performances support the silly giallo throwback feel. Annabelle Wallis has a monologue at the end that is the most cheeseball shit, and sells every bit of it. George Young is particularly enjoyable playing the stereotypical brooding giallo detective. Everybody in the cast is game to camp it up, whether they’re willing participants or not. This is the best Joseph Bishara score in some time, giddily amping up the atmosphere and fun with synths and a main theme that is a supremely nutty rendition of the popular song you think it is. (Just watch it already).
Wan absolutely revels in the overt theatricality, sleazy camera work and neon colors of the classic giallo film. His use of reds here is just delicious. Wan is a filmmaker acutely aware that an audience is watching his films, and knows exactly when to show something and when not to. He’s like Marcus Stroman on the mound, expert at messing with timing and expectation. He holds on a shot from under the bed at some feet knowing you think something is going to happen. Wan has endless creativity and fun with crafting his scenes,constantly moving his camera and using nutty POV shots – one of my favorites has a camera following Madison as she runs through her house while the camera gives us a god’s eye view, I mean who else would have thought to shoot that in such a giddy way? Without spoiling anything, a twist occurs halfway through that most films would have ended on, but this one finds a way to use it as jumping off point to another twist that is so gloriously insane it’s impossible to not be impressed by. This movie goes to 11. It results in one of the craziest third acts I’ve seen, and some glorious stunt work and action sequences that just have to be seen to be believed.
In an era where so much of what is made is so damn scared to be unique, it’s so refreshing to see a film that is so unafraid to be just that. I just had quite the smile on my face the whole way through Wan’s love letter to the giallo and Mario Bava, because it was so bold in how deliriously goofy and wildly fun it is through its whole runtime. It’s a minor miracle a movie that is this absolutely bonkers exists in today’s day and age. We are blessed for it. It’s a certified ripper. I can’t wait to watch this movie again.