Australian horror king James Wan returns to form with Malignant

Mallignant. R, 129 minutes, 3 stars

In the horror thriller Malignant, the latest film from Aussie James Wan of Saw and The Conjuring fame, an unknown figure haunts the life of a young widow.

The pregnant Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is about to head for work when her controlling husband Derek (Jake Abel) becomes violent with her. She makes him sleep downstairs for the night but he doesn't make it to morning.

Visiting the house in the dead of night is a dark figure with a supernatural air about it - the house electrics go crazy in its presence - who kills Derek and in the trauma of the event, Madison loses her baby.

The evil figure is called Gabriel and Madison is connected to it psychically. As Gabriel slashes its way through Seattle - particularly killing a handful of medical professionals for reasons that will help explain why Gabriel and Madison have a connection - Madison can see visions of the crimes.

How are they connected and how can she sever that connection drives Madison to unknown reserves of strength.

Malignant is a fascinating watch. It's not a great film, its has plot holes you could jump through on your kid's BMX, its evil character is just silly. And yet this film is so well made, beautifully shot, with some technically clever camera work and good sets.

If only it was a little more sloppily made, it might make timeless cult B-movie status. That's just what director James Wan gets for being so damned talented. If that upsets him, he can cry himself to sleep on a pillow of all that money he made from those Saw films.

Annabelle Wallis in Malignant. Picture: Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros.

Annabelle Wallis in Malignant. Picture: Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros.

The screenplay unashamedly embraces schlock, celebrating the Italian giallo horror genre, high camp and gore in equal measure.

It is a return to form for Wan after lensing the mega-budgeted Aquaman and the silly fun of Vin Diesel's Furious 7. He has parlayed his Saw success into an empire, his production company responsible for the rebooted MacGyver series in addition to endless sequels to his Conjuring, Annabelle and other film franchises.

One thing I have loved about Wan and his producing partner Leigh Whannell is their support of their Aussie mates in their big budget American films, and in Malignant we enjoy our own Jackie Mackenzie as a Nurse Ratched-type figure.

Annabelle Wallis does a lot to elevate the film. She is a very beautiful woman, looking a lot like Angelina Jolie but with the air of some of those raven-haired screen sirens of the 1990s like Jennifer Connelly or Mia Kirschner. She is just so watchable.

Other performances are fine, occasionally let down by the implausibility of some settings.

Wan developed the film with his wife, the actress Ingrid Bisu, who enjoys a "story by" credit as well as having written a nice co-starring role for herself. It feels for a while like the film is going to be a grisly version of Drop Dead Fred, and that might have been worth the price of the ticket.

I feel like I need to get in shape before I head off to the evil afterlife, if that's where I'm destined for. All of the hell demons and supernatural figures from film and television seem to be gifted in the Asian martial arts. The malignant figure in Malignant snaps a roundhouse kick like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.

Malignant gets an R rating for high-impact horror violence, so no ticket-buying for the under 18s. This restriction feels increasingly strange considering I've seen more brutal films on any of the streaming services, which practically any kid can click on.

This story Australian horror king does it again first appeared on The Canberra Times.