Monday, 13 September 2021


Back To Front

USA/China 2021
Directed by James Wan
Warner Brothers

Wow, this is amazing. I do seem to get on really well with the output of James Wan as a director, it has to be said. Malignant is... well it’s not a horror movie like many other of this director’s films, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it until you start to figure things out as the early appearances of the film’s main antagonist are depicted in a fashion that, if you don’t know the trick, certainly appears to be coming from the canon of supernatural horror. Now, I could go into all the ins and outs of the film here but I really do owe it to Mr. Wan, after making such a good movie, to try and not let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, by putting spoilers into the review where they could be easily found.

What I will say, however, is that the film is, as far as I’m concerned, a kind of souped up reboot... okay, lets call it a 'genuine homage'... of one of my favourite all time thrillers. Now, to mention the director of that thriller would be a spoiler in itself and, to be fair to Wan, the film is a further twist on the central concept, allowing it to go in a slightly different direction... so I will say that, if you want to see which film I think was the inspiration for this one, you can find my review of it here.

Now the film itself involves a wonderful prologue featuring an, as yet, unglimpsed creature called Gabriel at the Simeon Research Hospital in 1993. This is a brutal and violent set up to give you an idea of what this dangerous creature is like. We then have a beautifully gritty montage title sequence of things which may clue you in on some important elements of the creature’s story, if you watch closely enough, before jumping to the present day and meeting the main protagonist, Madison, played by Annabelle Wallis. She’s pregnant and, after her husband beats her, she dreams of his death by supernatural antagonist... something which seems to have actually happened when she wakes and goes down to investigate, before said ‘entity’ attacks her and she wakes up in hospital, having lost the baby. We also meet her sister played by Maddie Hasson, two nicely written cops played by George Young and Michole Briana White and, a little later, another mystery character played by Jean Louisa Kelly. Actually, this last character was interesting because she works in... and is terrorised by the film’s main antagonist in... that underground city in Seattle. This is the first time I can remember it being featured in a movie since the second of the original two Carl Kolchak TV movies, The Night Strangler (the sequel to The Night Stalker, before the spin off TV series tried to ride the back of it).

Okay, that’s all I am going to say other than... the main twists in this movie are not so hard to figure out from, frankly, very early on in the movie (you’ll probably get their within 5-10 minutes of the opening credits) but that’s not a problem for me because the nature of the way that twist is revealed and explored and the way it opens up the story is wonderfully executed and still brings the odd surprise along to sweeten the deal. For example, I was aware fairly quickly that the killer was walking and running backwards but, I didn’t figure out the significance of that until the last third of the movie... which is nice. Also, my confusing the ‘mystery woman’ with the main lead at one point, made more sense once certain things were made clear (again in the last third of the movie). So yeah, colour me impressed.

Impressed too with the wonderful cinematography, frame designs and editing. James Wan has gone for a lot of shots which are accented along vertical lines but he also tends to pitch the main focus of the frame at the centre (something which I tend to think of as being a bit old school and it reminds me of something I saw British director Terence Fisher doing in a movie recently). It works perfectly here though and the way it's edited creates a nice rhythm as the shots, because of how they are framed, segue into each other without pulling the viewer onto another part of the screen in a jarring manner.

Such as a brilliant shot where the vertical gives way to the exterior of a window split into a huge grid. The camera slowly zooms in on the exterior as we see the face of one of the characters on the phone through a tiny rectangle making up one of the panes of glass in the frame. A really nice piece of cinema right there which shows just how much a master of his game Wan has become. It’s nice stuff.

What’s also nice is the music from Wan’s longtime collaborator, composer Joseph Bishara, who certainly provides a really wonderful score to this which is befitting exactly the kind of movie which I think has inspired the director. Actually, more than anything, the score to this reminded me a lot of Riz Ortolani’s score for Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling which, frankly, is a heck of a score to be compared to. I hope that, should the composer ever read this, he takes it as a complement. It’s got a refreshingly ‘old school’ sense of experimental sound scoring which really lends itself to this incredible movie. And, as usual, Watertower records are not helping out when it comes to trying to buy the score. This thing is only available as a stupid, compressed electronic download and not as a proper CD once more, which I find really infuriating and... honestly, I just can’t type properly when I consider this music company’s crimes against filmanity.

And that’s me pretty much done with Malignant, although I will be first in line to grab a Blu Ray when this one comes out... it’s an instant classic. The film is a little on the gory side (I didn’t realise this until a friend of mine told me it was supposed to be quite violent after I recommended it to them... and I suppose it kinda is) but it’s not so over the top that it’s any more violent than a lot of movies made in the 1970s and 80s... perhaps it is a bit of a contrast to all the toned down violence we are usually familiar with at the cinema these days. Anyway... that really is all I’ve got to say now on this one. I would absolutely recommend this to fans of 1970s thrillers and, yes, even though it’s really not a horror movie, I think the target audience of that genre would also get a blast out of this one, to be honest. Don’t miss out.

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