GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by James Wan.
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young.
Horror, US, 111 minutes, certificate 18.
Released in cinemas in the UK by Warner Bros on 10th September.
If you have been paying attention to the online chatter then you already know that MALIGNANT has to be seen to be believed. What looked like a typical James Wan production from the trailers and posters (woman in peril, spooky goings on, big house) is anything but typical. Not for James Wan, not for anyone else. Without going into spoilers this is a film that doesn’t so much take a turn but goes flying off the road, horns blaring, lights flashing and Wan possibly cackling behind the wheel as he tries to set it on fire.
The mystery at the heart of the film is set up nicely from the very beginning with the sight of an impossibly tall medical facility that looks like an OTT version of an elderly European vampire’s castle situated on top of a cliff. Within we see doctors and security guards rushing down corridors excitedly discussing a young patient who has started to “drink the electricity!” This slightly out of the ordinary statement is then followed by the female doctor brandishing a rifle and declaring to the camera “It’s time to cut out the cancer!” Subtlety has no place in this film. Or sense.
Cutting to the present day we meet married and pregnant Maddie. When her abusive husband meets a grisly and mysterious end, Maddie and her younger sister soon find themselves in the middle of an investigation in which the long haired, black gloved and trench coated suspect behind the attack is now attacking and abducting other victims across the city which Maddie is now psychically witnessing. Could there be a possible connection with links to the past between Maddie and this mysterious individual who also possesses the power to control electrical devices? If I gave you the answer, I doubt you would believe me or take me seriously.
Wan has stated that after making big budget franchise films he wanted to make something that would polarise the audience in a way that directors like Argento and De Palma did back in the 80’s and 90’s. This is certainly a polarising film but maybe not in the way its director intended; debate already seems raised as to whether Wan is in on the joke here or if he really is taking all of this seriously. With a few reservations I feel that Wan knows what he is doing here, giving the audience a quick wink. At times it is obvious that he is paying homage to those directors; elaborate overhead tracking shots, black gloved killers, as well as Lucio Fulci whose THE PSYCHIC is one of many influences also on display here as well as another early 80’s cult horror which would give the whole game away if the title was mentioned.
The hammy acting, painfully obvious dialogue and melodramatic score dominate a first half that feels like an over written and underwhelming cop show. Things kick into gear with a truly surprising reveal that leads into possibly the most bonkers final act in a major studio film possibly ever. The straight-faced audacity from Wan and his cast seems to be doubling down on its ridiculousness. At times it feels like a deadpan serious reboot of GARTH MARNEGHI’S DARKPLACE. It is quite doubtful that you have seen anything like this before on such a big budget and even more doubtful that you will again. I have not laughed this much in a cinema in some time. Days later I’m still racking my brain whether I was supposed to or not. Like the question of how exactly the villain controls electricity I doubt we will ever get a definitive answer. This is a genuine oddity on may levels that needs to be seen to be believed.