All week long, I kept hoping that when I got to Saturday, like magic there would be some other movie than Malignant for me to watch. A miniscule part of me held out an even tinnier glimmer of hope that it would not be that bad. It is directed by James Wan. As the promotional material for Malignant never seemed to tire to remind us all, he also directed The Conjuring (2013). The latter is the mostly fictionalized tales of real life Catholic paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). I only saw that film once, but I recall thinking that it was okay. I wish I could say Malignant was just “okay.” Unfortunately, like the cancerous condition it suggests (and strangely explores), it is something that I would rather do without at the end of the day.
Malignant begins with a psychiatric facility outside of Seattle, Washington, in 1993. There, Dr. Florence Weaver’s (Jacqueline McKenzie) video journal about a patient named Gabriel (voiced by Ray Chase) is interrupted by a disturbance, electrical and audible. Rushing into the hall she finds a bloody scene, more carnage, and a grotesque figure with super strength, and the ability to manipulate electricity to talk through radio speakers. The last thing this creature says, who is Gabriel, is that it is going to kill them all. After a gruesome opening credits montage of oddly shaped body parts being removed surgically (dead giveaway), we come to modern times. A very pregnant Madison Lake-Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) returns home from her shift as a nurse to find her husband, Derek (Jake Abel), watching Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). An argument breaks out between the two that ends with him smashing her head into the wall. He is immediately sorry, but is locked out of the room. Later, he awakens on the couch to something going bump in the night. A shadowy figure is stalking him and ends up killing him. Maddison is also attacked. When she comes to, she is in the hospital. Her sister, Sydney Lake (Maddie Hasson), is by her side for comfort, not solely for the trauma she went through, but also to comfort her for the loss of her baby, a casualty of the previous night. When the police investigate Maddison’s house, they find Derek’s neck snapped at a horrible angle, but no sign of forced entry. After some time of recuperation, Maddison insists on going home. Unfortunately, she soon experiences a vision of a strange person murdering an older woman. This turns out to be Dr. Weaver. The lead detective, Kekoa Shaw (George Young), begins digging through the doctor’s files and finds a connection to Maddison. In following up with Maddison, she begins to believe that the police think she is connected to the deaths. What convinces her to cooperate more is when she has another vision of a murder, this time of Dr. Victor Fields (Christian Clemenson). He had worked at the same hospital as in the beginning. Going to the police, she informs them as to where to find the body. It becomes apparent that there is more to Maddison than she can let on, and even she confesses to repressed memories that they believe might be key figure out what is happening. In order to do so, they enlist the help of a psychotherapist who hypnotizes Maddison. This is how they come to identify Gabriel as the killer. Much to everyone’s surprise, a body falls through the ceiling at this moment. This is Serena May (Jean Louisa Kelly), Maddison’s birth mother. Her sudden appearance seems to confirm many of the police’s suspicions, and they arrest Maddison. Hoping to help clear her name and establish Gabriel’s existence, Sydney travels to the psychiatric hospital from the start of the film and discovers some remarkably intact files. Among them are videotapes containing the truth: Gabriel is a parasitic, conjoined twin of Maddison’s. Considered more of a tumor, the doctors in 1993 removed the rest of the “body,” if it can be called that, and sewed everything else back together. What could not be cut away, though, was the brain, which Gabriel and Madison had shared. For years, Gabriel lay dormant, though he is responsible for her miscarriages. When Derek slammed Madison into the wall, it brought Gabriel fully back to life. While this goes on, a fight breaks out in the holding cell in which Maddison is being held. The other inmates, seeing her as not one of them I guess, begin beating her. Doing so makes Gabriel emerge. He then goes on a killing rampage through the police station before heading to the hospital where Serena is recuperating. Sydney arrives there just in time, and with her encouragement, Maddison begins to fight back mentally. She is able to gain the upper hand, and locks Gabriel away in a cage in her mind. That is basically where this mishigas ends.
Yes, Malignant seems to suggest that the best way to deal with repressed parts of your character is to repress them more. Still, that is not the weakest aspect of the film. In one of my favorite episodes of Sherlock, John Watson (Martin Freeman) insists that the solution to one of their cases is twins. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) finally and exasperatedly says that it is not twins. It is never twins. The reason why is because, in real life, twins are quite rare. Murders are too, believe it or not, making the possibility of look-alike killers even more so. Since we are dealing with literature and film, it should also be pointed out that the suggestion of twins in a story like this might have been good. Once. A long time ago. In Malignant, it is obvious what is going on with Maddison and Gabriel, and it comes off as lazy writing. While I did not think they were actually the same person, technically speaking (and I was kind of disappointed by this revelation), it is equally evident that Gabriel is somehow real. Another criticism I have is the ending. As I started out saying in this paragraph, the resolution seems to be that locking away a part of your personality is best. This is probably done to set up sequels, which is problematic. What I want to know is how they handle Maddison after she, or Gabriel or whatever, murders 100 people. I may not be exaggerating with that number, either. Could there not have been a final scene showing her being taken out of the hospital in handcuffs?
My Catholic criticism of Malignant unsurprisingly stems from the use of the name Gabriel for the villain. Was James Wan tired of dealing with meddlesome Catholics and wanted to name his new bad guy after one of the most important Heavenly figures in Christendom? Hollywood likes to imagine angels as these strong creatures, sort of demi-gods that are a boss-level below actual God, if you will excuse the video game parlance. Gabriel has these features, for some reason, but uses them to horrific ends. It is difficult to imagine the real Gabriel, the one who declared to Mary that should was the chosen vessel for Jesus, doing these things. Then again, it is only a name. Anyway, being Catholic is a big part of my identity, and this is what I think about when I see these kinds of names in film.
Just because the villain in Malignant, Gabriel, is named after one of the archangels is not the real reason for avoiding it. Do not watch it because it has a mostly unresolved plot, and is full of gore and violence. It all seems a bit like the proverbial sweeping of problems under the rug. By sticking Gabriel back in Maddison’s skull, no matter the cages she constructs for him, it is not fully dealing with the problem. Call me square, but I like it better when my plots have nice, neat resolutions.