Why James Wan’s “Malignant” is So Divisive

After spending a few years away from horror, making films like Furious 7 and Aquaman, James Wan’s return to this genre was a momentous occasion.  His love and passion for the genre clearly shows as he wanted to make another horror film before getting to work on the Aquaman sequel, and that film was the hotly anticipated Malignant.

Having been out for nearly a week now, both in theaters and on HBO Max, the most surprising thing about this movie is its incredibly polarizing reaction.  People seem to absolutely love this movie or absolutely hate it, with absolutely nothing in the middle.

It’s a fascinating reaction, so we wanted to take a deeper dive into why.  Why this movie is so divisive to begin with.  And why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Major Spoilers Ahead for Malignant (You’ve Been Warned)

Love It or Hate It
Judging by the myriad of social media posts regarding Malignant, people fall into one of these two camps.  For some, the movie is simply too far out there.  It’s one part gothic murder mystery, one part violent slasher, and one part dark comedy as the police detectives crack jokes that don’t really mesh with the tone of the rest of the movie.

And while none of those criticisms are inherently false, they also seem very intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  There are certainly bad movies out there where the writers/directors didn’t know what they were doing and the result was a mess of a movie.

Malignant 3
Malignant of course has its share of strange twists and turns…

But Malignant is not at all in that camp.  Every creative choice, no matter how outlandish, was exactly the kind of movie that James Wan set out to make.  And the fact that it’s not for everyone is kind of the point.  It seems that it was made more so for horror fans who are into the surreal and strange.

Going Full Giallo
To describe Malignant as bizarre would be quite the understatement.  Between the murder mystery of a plot, the gloomy atmosphere, and the absurd nature of some of the story, the movie fits the term giallo in almost every way.

Italian master of cinema Dario Argento (Tenebrae, Suspiria, Deep Red, Phenomena) is very much synonymous with this subgenre, known for its surreal and bizarre nature.  In many ways, giallo films were a response to the incredibly violent, but admittedly simplistic nature of American slashers.

Malignant 5
The surreal quality has given these films an almost timeless quality.

Malignant follows in those same footsteps.  It’s far gorier than any movie James Wan has directed before (except maybe for Saw).  But that gore is complimented by a compelling mystery that you definitely need to suspend your disbelief for.

It’s a movie that Wan really went all out with his production design, and that too mimics what made giallo films so memorable.  Whether they were ridiculous or scary, they were always memorable.  And that seems to be the case with anyone who’s watched Malignant thus far.

It’s easy to see why casual moviegoers found the backwards moving conjoined twin element to be a bit too campy and farfetched.  But at its core, this movie was never trying to be an “ordinary” movie.  Wan himself admitted that he wanted to do something completely different, and he very much succeeded.

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Even the film’s visual style is nothing like anything Wan has done before. He uses color to great effect for mood lighting. Plus the action scenes are amazing, no doubt experience from directing Furious 7 and Aquaman.

For anyone who watched the trailers, it can feel like they were a bit misled.  Warner Bros. marketing campaign made the movie look like a supernatural thriller about a girl’s imaginary friend coming back years later.  It looked to be in the same vein as Insidious or The Conjuring, both of which were demonic horror films with a bit of family drama thrown in.

But then when Malignant was finally released, it was so completely different from anything Wan had done before that people didn’t really know what to make of it.  Audiences can be forgiven for expecting something else, but once again here’s an example of the studio marketing something incorrectly to get people to watch the movie.

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How would you even market this movie accurately?

But lest we forget, this is the same director who’s been known to start new trends.  Following the release of Saw in 2004, we saw a boom in ultraviolet “torture porn” films that aimed to be as gory and disgusting as possible.  The same happened again with Insidious and The Conjuring, when a wave of supernatural horror dramas dominated the 2010s.  So perhaps this is Wan just doing what he does and starting another trend.

Either way, it’s not a surprise, nor is it a bad thing that this movie is so divisive.  Art is highly subjective, and a movie that pleases everyone is one that didn’t take any risks, nor did it try anything different.  So even if you weren’t a fan, Malignant deserves to be recognized for the absurdly bizarre, but unique film that it is!

What did you think of Malignant?  What’s your favorite James Wan movie?  Let us know in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “Why James Wan’s “Malignant” is So Divisive

  1. It is a poor adaptation of a 19th century urban legend, not an original or unique idea. Wan is conspicuously *not* mentioning this inspiration in interviews. Edward Mordrake deserves better than this nonsense.


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