‘Malignant’ (2021) Review: James Wan Returns to Horror with Bloody Splatters

Nuha Hassan
4 min readSep 27, 2021
Annabelle Wallis as Madison. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

This piece contains spoilers for Malignant.

James Wan’s new horror movie, Malignant puts him back to the horror genre and breaks all the rules there ever is. Even if he works with billion-dollar franchises, his true artistic consciousness belongs as a horror director. Wan has previously directed The Conjuring and Insidious, both of which are amazing on their own and shows the director’s auteurship at work. The story is crafted by Wan, Ingrid Basu and Akela Cooper, the latter of who helmed the screenplay crafts the movie into a slow-burning and wildly insane, as per the third act, which we will discuss later on.

The prologue of Malignant sets up a terrific intervention of the beginning of a gnarly procedure by a group of doctors and physicians that appear to be trying to control a patient. The scene sets itself as Dr Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) is recording the progress of this patient, when her colleague walks in and tells her that this patient has gone out of control. It appears that this patient has the ability to communicate through speakers and powers to control lights. “It’s time to cut out the cancer,” she says before making a dramatic introduction to a horror movie that has one of the most unexpected, yet silly twists ever seen.

Annabelle Wallis as Madison. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Decades later, Madison (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle and Peaky Blinders) is pregnant and lives with her abusive husband (Jake Abel). One night, he smashes her head into a wall during an argument, so she locks herself in the bedroom and falls asleep. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, there is blood on the pillow and she discovers that an intruder broke into their home and murdered her husband. The intruder attacks her but knocks her unconscious after locking herself in the room. When Madison wakes up the next morning, her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) tells her that she has lost her baby. After returning home, she has visions of a serial killer murdering people, one of them who was introduced during the prologue, Dr Weaver. A pair of homicide detectives (George Young and Michole Briana White) are convinced that Madison is behind the killing spree. The mysterious intruder introduces themselves to Madison as Gabriel, the name of her childhood imaginary friend whom she had forgotten for a very long time.

Between Wan’s incredible direction and Gabriel’s demeanour, it feels like it might emerge from the screen. The horror director uses creative techniques such as gliding and swooning the camera to capture action sequences. Another scene that captured the brilliance of Wan’s mind is how he captured an aerial shot of Madison’s two-story home, as she is chased after Gabriel. The camera pans from left to right, revealing the interior of the home from the top, and it almost seems like there is someone else that is watching all of this unfold. Of course, it is just a camera technique but needless to say, it is still a unique way of capturing the insanity about to unfold.

Maddie Hasson as Sydney and Annabelle Wallis as Madison. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

During the third act, it is revealed that Gabriel is not Madison’s imaginary friend or a supernatural force, but a parasitic twin that is attached to her body. The physicians at the prologue sequence were referring the “cancer” to Madison’s twin, who harnesses supernatural powers to the point where it can send brain signals to Madison’s brain and manipulate her thoughts. To get rid of Gabriel, the doctors operated and removed his body but kept part of his brain inside her skull and used her body. He configures her body to move backwards, twisting her arms and murders people who were behind Gabriel’s “disappearance”. It’s completely wild when the twist is revealed, and even if the audience were to guess it they would have probably been wrong because this was the most unexpected and bizarre reveal that has some of the fans divided. But regardless of these opinions, Malignant captures the fantastic and brilliant ideas that are cooking in Wan’s head.

Malignant’s fantastic and silly reveal is a real page-turner, and for Wan, he has never been the kind of director that undermines that audience. With its references to Giallo films and the subversion of the genre, Malignant gives the audience a challenge to its perception. The genre’s grounded in its unbelievable levels of creativity, horror, and the general look at how Wan’s new horror movie could perhaps be a cult classic. Despite the split between the audience’s reactions, Wan has cemented his position as a horror auteur who can reinvent narratives that are beyond what we have seen in previous cult horror classics.