The wild and outrageous wonders of 'Malignant'

SEPTEMBER 18 ― Like all things, Hollywood movie trends have come in cycles. That’s why musicals were everywhere not once, but twice in film history ― the first round during the 1930s when sound came into the picture, and the second time in the 1950s and 1960s, when big-budget extravaganzas were needed to pull people back into the cinemas after the arrival of television sets in homes across America.

Surely influenced by the mood of a nation grappling with Vietnam, Watergate, the Civil Rights movement and the widespread acceptance of counterculture, the 1970s saw the improbable ― and probably never to be repeated again ― rise of the New Hollywood, spearheaded by cinephile directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, producing hit films that will probably have a really tough time getting financed today.

In short, just a little perceptive observation on the kinds of films being made during a usually short and concentrated period of time will shine a light on the various trends and cycles that are in place in Hollywood’s dream factory, like how teen rom-coms and teen slasher movies were all the rage in the 90s, how American horror remakes of Asian horror flicks were a dime a dozen during the 2000s, or how uniquely jingoistic the American action movies of the 80s were, courtesy of the Cold War.

Australian director James Wan, whom we’ve also claimed as one of our own courtesy of the fact that he was born in Kuching, has been at the forefront of two massively popular trends in the mainstream Hollywood horror genre.

He made his big break with Saw back in 2004, the success of which more or less created the subgenre we now know as “torture porn.”

He changed the game again when Insidious and The Conjuring arrived in 2010 and 2013 respectively, which made haunted house movies cool again.

Judging from the extremely polarising reception to his latest film Malignant, his much-welcomed return to the horror genre after dabbling in the world of Fast and Furious movies with Furious 7 and the DCEU with Aquaman (which made more than US$1 billion or about RM4 billion at the box-office for Warner Bros), Wan could just be set to change the game for a third time, ushering in a new trend for outrageous 80s and 90s style B-movie horror in Hollywood studio filmmaking.

A YouTube screenshot of a scene from ‘Malignant’.
A YouTube screenshot of a scene from ‘Malignant’.

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The box-office numbers have been pretty sad, bagging only US$5.57 million on its opening weekend, but one must also take into account that the film is available to watch for free on HBO Max at the same time, and we’ve yet to see how those HBO Max numbers stack up in terms of viewership.

But it’s in the word-of-mouth surrounding the film, with tons of reviews and articles being written about it from haters and defenders, not to mention the copious numbers of posts and opinions about it on social media, that indicates we just might see a new cult classic being born, and a potential new trend in horror movies arriving because of it.

A lot of casual film fans seem to have been baffled by the film, an obviously “one for me” film for Wan after making US$1 billion for the studio with Aquaman, in which Wan not only lets loose his love for the outrageous B-movie horror flicks of the 1980s and 1990s, when VHS tapes were still all the rage, with all the campy acting, batshit crazy twists and turns and glorious gore effects lovingly maintained, but also having it all filtered through the technical wizardry that one can execute on a reported US$40 million plus budget.

I’ve stayed away from discussing the film’s plot points because the outlandish twists and turns of the story are part of what makes it such an entertaining watch, even if the film’s title should have already clued the viewer in to the film’s irresistibly insane third act twist right there at the gloriously gory opening set-piece of the film, in which an unseen patient named Gabriel practically slaughtered almost everyone before being successfully subdued.

We then fast forward to meet the film’s protagonist Madison (a very game Annabelle Wallis bravely playing it straight in the face of the absolute lunacy surrounding her in the film), who starts having visions of a bizarre serial killer named Gabriel murdering people after having her head slammed into the wall by her husband.

It gets loonier and loonier as the film progresses, so I wouldn’t want to spoil the movie’s delights for you, but if you can imagine Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento making a movie together with Frank Henenlotter (or early Peter Jackson for that matter, during his splatter phase), working on a major Hollywood studio budget and given absolute carte blanche, then you’ll have an idea of the wondrous love letter that Wan has crafted to the B-movies that shaped his horror-loving youth.

I loved every second of it.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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