An Analysis and Review of ‘Malignant’ (2021)

[This review may contain spoilers]


Julia Alvarado

James Wan entered the world of horror cinema in 2004, after the release of “Saw.” The movie immediately spawned numerous sequels, and provided other opportunities for Wan to direct, write, and produce films of the genre. With “Saw,” Wan pioneered the style and content of early 2000s horror, with “Insidious,” he proved he’d be bringing his talent into the 2010s, and with “The Conjuring,” he made horror more mainstream and accessible to those inexperienced with the genre.


Last September, he released “Malignant.” At the time of writing, Malignant is a standalone horror movie about a woman (Annabelle Wallis) who begins having visions of murders, only to find that the brutal events are actually happening. On its surface, the movie is simple, unremarkable, a generic story told by someone whose work has become increasingly predictable. Even after seeing the movie, it seems to be lacking–the acting and writing, overdramatic and absurd, the tone, bizarre and erratic. But the truth is, “Malignant” was not the problem. Rather, the expectation of a mainstream film with an easily understandable tone and a clear source of inspiration was the problem.


“Malignant” is inspired by an Italian genre called Giallo. Essentially, Giallos are Italian mystery movies. The term Giallo (yellow in Italian) was derived from a series of cheap mystery paperbacks with yellow covers that were very popular in Italy. The genre has a very loose set of rules, but Giallos are usually colourful “whodunnits”, with melodramatic acting and characters that just seem a bit off. Most of them have very stylized murders, amateur detectives and psychological crimes. And  they are almost always ridiculous, with blaring music and lines that sound straight out of a bad soap opera.


Giallo is the word that best describes “Malignant.” It’s not Wan’s typical movie. It’s not “The Conjuring,” it’s not “Insidious,” it’s not “Saw.” “Malignant” is unique, fresh, and, admittedly, a little dumb (in all the very best ways). Its story is strange and slightly ridiculous, its actors are dedicated and delightful, its themes are simple and understandable. “Malignant” is exceptionally weird, but for those who love Wan, Giallos, cheesy horror, or just weirdness, it’s the perfect film to go into totally blind. If you’re willing to play along with its absurdity and go into it with an open mind, “Malignant” is a truly fantastic movie, and my personal ranking is ⅘ paws.