James Wan, director, producer and co-writer of the new movie Malignant, needed a break from PG-13 films. He was between Aquaman stories and wanted to “cleanse his palette” with an R-rated film.
“Right after Aquaman 1, I knew I was jumping in to Aquaman 2 at some point, but I needed to take a little break” he told Entertainment Weekly. He wanted to go back to his favorite genre, horror. “I wanted to go back to the kind of movies I used to make. The Conjuring and the Insidious films are so ghostly and supernatural that they play at a different level of horror.”
The genre is where Wan most feels at home, calling it his “place of love and comfort.”
He said, “I felt like it might be cool to make something under the radar, that’s not based on any IP, an original story. Keep it as low-key as possible and make it really fun. The goal was to go back to my indie horror roots but at the same time, do something that I’ve never done before.”
READ MORE: Why Aquaman director James Wan is returning to his ‘down and dirty’ horror roots with Malignant (Entertainment Weekly)
It was to be Wan’s particular take on the 1980s trope of storytelling where a victim starts seeing through the vision of a killer — think The Eyes of Laura Mars. In an interview with Games Radar’s Total Film, he said, “There was a period where there were a lot of movies like that, and I’m a big fan of that particular sub-genre. I wanted to do my own version, crossed with my love of Brian De Palma, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.
“The story is a ‘genre-blender’; the correct term is genre-bender, but it is also a genre blender in that it mixes a bunch of different genres that I love, from psychological thriller to the Italian Giallo horror to shades of science fiction.”
Giallo is literally Italian for Yellow, and is used to describe a type of lurid detective/crime novel that has become a genre of its own. A style of murder mystery made popular in movies by Italian filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and many others, who took a well-worn style and reinvented it through their own filmmaking sensibility.
“You can see shades of my love for this in Saw. Malignant is basically my take on the Giallo genre.”
The story is about a woman, Madison, played by Annabelle Wallis. Madison’s husband is killed in their home by an intruder and she’s left for dead. She’s pregnant and she loses her baby in that incident. She experiences major traumatic emotion from the incident and ends up developing a psychic connection to her attacker. She starts having visions of the attacker and his murderous deeds.
Esquire identified Wan’s movie lineage in Malignant, “It has all the trademarks of a Wan film, including 360-degree rotating cinematography, shots that zoom into and race after characters in shadowy passageways, and a fondness for CGI boogeymen. In this case, that would be Gabriel, a specter who’s killing doctors that have a secretive link to Madison.”
Without wanting to spoil the movie, to create Gabriel, the film used a choreographer called Marina Mazepa. She had to learn how to move backwards, as Wan told Nerd Reactor.
“There was no trickery, we didn’t cheat in any way. She did that all backward. So it was a combination of what she did there, the prosthetic make-up that we applied, and the animatronic face of Gabriel. I really wanted to create a villain that we haven’t quite seen before. It took quite a lot of work to get it to this level.
“It was pretty cool to bring with me all the experiences that I’ve gained from making my bigger movies to this film that is really made with the spirit of a more down-and-dirty approach.”
READ MORE: Interview: Malignant Co-Writer/Director James Wan on Blending Genres, Giving Us a Villain We’ve Never Seen Before, and More (Nerd Reactor)
And it’s that down-and-dirty approach that has reviewers classing this film as an attempt to create a B horror movie as an homage with a studio budget (the film cost around $40 million). The Filmcast podcast noted the bad lighting, wooden acting and clunking writing, which are surrounded by some brilliant VFX, animatronics and high-wire cinematography.
Ariel Fisher from Fangoria Magazine said on The Filmcast podcast, “James Wan described wanting the film to be something you might find at the back of the store in the horror section where nobody goes.”
But she went on to mention how the film for her is really an allegory to the way we deal with suppressed trauma. “The reason we like the horror genre is that it allows us to discuss some deeply personal and serious subjects through ridiculous means. For some it takes the edge off, for others it gives you the edge for you to discuss those things.”
Esquire concludes in another, perhaps more traditional way, “The director takes considerable pleasure in recombining stock ingredients into an entertainingly loopy stew, and the unbridled silliness of the venture ultimately trumps its shortcomings. It’s a goofball B-movie throwback on a studio budget designed to be watched with — and laughed at by — friends on an early fall night, and in the end, there are far worse things than that.”
READ MORE: James Wan’s Malignant Is a Rollercoaster Ride Through a Funhouse Version of Horror’s Past (Esquire)
Malignant is in theaters and available at HBO Max as part of their Ad-Free plan.