Review: Indecisive ‘Malignant’ more perplexing than scary

Annabelle Wallis in Malignant / Atomic Monster

With the calendar creeping ever closer to October, producer/director James Wan is at it again.

The creator of the “Saw” and “The Conjuring” franchises of horror flicks, who is currently helming a sequel to his super-hero blockbuster “Aquaman,” has returned to his roots to craft “Malignant” just in time for the onrushing Halloween season.

With the “Candyman” reboot, “Don’t Breath 2” and “The Night House” still haunting theaters and horrors like the umpteenth “Halloween” sequel set for debut next month, right now seems to be a sweet spot for schlocky movies about terrorized heroines being plagued by the creep of the week.

While Wan doesn’t necessarily fit the mode of an auteur, the veteran director does know his way around a jump scare, and his supernatural fare is at least stylish and commercial enough to keep brining horror fans back to the theater or in the case of “Malignant” to HBO Max, where the film is streaming day-and-date along with the theatrical release.

Wan’s brand of horror is slick, if not repetitive. “Malignant” reminds me of a less inventive and less disturbing version of David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” with a touch of Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

There is a certain creep factor when you’re uncertain of whether reality is seeping into a dream or vice-versa, and Wan plays with this notion effectively, but not quite as well as the aforementioned classics or even the more recent sci-fi/horror thinker “Annihilation.”

Annabelle Walis plays Maddie Mitchell, our heroine, who is experiencing vivid dreams of gruesome murders that bleed into her consciousness. The visions torture her, playing her emotional distress from a failing marriage and three miscarriages against the increasing aggression of her husband Derek (Jack Abel).

Wan, a master of the jump scare, knows how to craft an uncomfortable scene, slowing turning the screws of tension up one click at a tie, but what he had a hard time doing with this film is honing in on just what type of horror story he was seeking to tell.

Is this film a psychological thriller? A haunted-house picture, or a demon-possession flick? It’s not particularly scary to veteran horror buffs, but it is gory and violent, with shots that might remind you of “Hereditary.”

My central problem with the movie is that it is so derivative of other horror films that I was escorted out of the narrative into my memory bank of more original films. It’s not that “Malignant” is poorly made so much as that it plays more like a greatest hits collection than a cohesive album.

It comes across like Wan might have been bored while making the movie and therefore a bit indecisive of just what type of film he wanted to make.

The movie is brutal within its twists and turns, and it could scare you if its change of directions don’t confound you too much. The film does feature a gruesome boogie man, named Gabriel, and believe me, he is no angel as he takes possession of Maddie and puts her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) through the wringer.

Certainly Wan and Warner Bros. will seek to franchise this movie, if it’s successful enough at the box office, which of course is in question because of the HBO Max deal. All of Warner’s films this year have been released day and date on the company’s streaming network, but only the mediocre “Godzilla Vs. Kong” came close to delivering at the box office. Maybe the Oct. 1 release of the highly anticipated “Dune” will change that?

As for “Malignant,” it’s your average haunted-house, serial-killer, demonic-possession movie. It’ll scare you if you let it, but do you really want to spend your time and money on such such an indecisive project?

(R) 1 hr. 51 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters

Malignant (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 51 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Show Me the Father (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 31 min. / Malco Razorback

Classic Corner – Labyrinth (Malco Razorback)

David Bowie in Labyrinth / Lucasfilm

One of the well-worn truths bestowed upon us by any number of fairy tales is to be careful of what you wish for because it just might come true.

That’s the central truth behind “Labyrinth,” the 1986 cult-classic musical directed by Muppets creator Jim Henson and produced by Star Wars mastermind George Lucas. The movie is being re-released for a special 3 p.m. Sunday showing by Fathom Events at the Malco Razorback Cinema Grill in celebration of the movie’s 35th anniversary.

In the fantasy adventure that features actors and muppets, David Bowie plays Jareth the Goblin King, and a young Jennifer Connelly stars as young Sarah Williams, who is a bit careless with her wishes.

The 16-year-old Sarah journeys into the Labyrinth to find her baby brother, Toby, after she had wished the Goblin King would take him away.The off-hand desire leads to a whimsical and just a bit scary musical adventure that remains as fun and thrilling today as when the film was originally released.

The movie is one part “Wizard of Oz” and one part Maurice Sendak, congealing into a strange concoction designed by Brian Froud, who often worked with Henson in hi muppets factory, that has the charm of the muppets and the mythological bombast of Lucas’ Star Wars saga.

While the role of the Goblin King was originally intended for Michael Jackson, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Bowie in the part. While Connelly’s burgeoning talent is obvious as the lead, she is a bit stiff in the film, although her work is better with Bowie than muppets.

However, Henson’s creations lift the movie out of the realm of ordinary, adding a dreamy, wild flavor to the storytelling that stands out even 35 years later.

“Labyrinth” is available to stream on Amazon Prime, but the best way to enjoy the film really is on the big screen.