Malignant (2021)

Directed by James Wan [Other horror films: Stygian (2000), Saw (2004), Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016)]

Being only the fourth movie I’ve seen from 2021 (the first three being the Fear Street movies), Malignant came out of nowhere and took Twitter by storm. I saw so many reactions to this movie in such a short span of time, and though I don’t usually jump into seeing new movies that quickly, I did have the opportunity to watch this, and definitely found it worthwhile.

I don’t think I can call it a great movie. There are plenty of very well-done elements, to be sure, but at best, I think it’s just quite good. It can be a wild ride, especially if you go in with very few preconceptions (as I did, as luckily, most of what I saw online was quite vague). I didn’t know what I was going into, and I definitely had a blast trying to figure out exactly what was going on, which always makes for a good experience.

Reaction has been somewhat mixed – generally, I see positive comments, but it seems that those who disliked the movie disliked it quite a bit, and I can sort of see that. Toward the end, there were portions I wasn’t particularly fond of myself, and if someone sits through an almost two hour movie to reach an unsatisfactory conclusion, I get why that might leave a bad taste in your mouth. Personally, I dug enough of the film, and found much of it interesting, that I had a pretty good time, but I think I can understand those who didn’t.

Even if someone didn’t like it, though, if there’s one thing Malignant excels in, it’s having an engaging story. You’re trying to figure out the whole story along with the characters, and are having a good time doing so. Some of the cinematography is absolutely stunning (such as the overhead point-of-views during a chase sequence), some of the scares superb (the washer scene, for instance), and the atmosphere quite strong. Some feel it’s reminiscent of classic giallos, and I myself (who watched this with online friends) saw Argentino’s name pop up a few times. I don’t personally know if I’d go that far, but I can say that this movie carries with it a very unique vibe.

The somewhat amusing thing is, as much as I enjoyed portions of the movie, none of the performances wowed me. Make no mistake, I think that both Annabelle Wllis and Maddie Hasson are decent, and their performance as sisters believable, but I don’t think either one stood out. George Young was someone I was sort of expecting more from, but his character was never really given much to do, so again, there’s no much here to watch for as far as performances go.

That’s probably okay, though, as a brunt of the entertaining scenes deal with utter violence and rampage. Things go somewhat slowly during the first half of the film – I was interested and engaged throughout, don’t mistake me – but when things pick up in the last thirty minutes, they really pick up. Some expected yet still well-done revelations and violence galore (my favorite perhaps being a face being crushed on the floor, but a chair being thrown was another quality scene), and it’s just a hell of a lot of fun.

Related, the special effects (much like the camera-work) are fantastic. There are some body horror elements that look quite disturbing, and the movements of the killer have a creepy jerky look to them (which is explained in story, which is nice). The violence that plays the movie out is just a lot of fun – arms being cut off, faces being smashed, throats being slit – I don’t doubt that they knew what they were going for when they threw these action-packed sequences in, and they did a damn good job on them.

I do think the story could have been a little stronger at times, and there are some things not answered by the plot, but I did love the mystery here, and though Malignant isn’t a movie I’d call perfect, I do say freely that it’s a refreshing movie, and definitely one I’m eager to revisit in the future.

8.5/10

Ye ban ge sheng (1935)

song at midnight

Directed by Weibang Ma-Xu [Other horror films: Ye ban ge sheng xu ji (1941), Wu ye jing hun (1956), Du mang qing yuan (1961)]

Often considered China’s first horror film, Ye ban ge sheng (or Song at Midnight, as it’s commonly known) is a piece of history in many ways. This Chinese adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera has much of the tragedy and suspense you’d hope to see, but it’s also muddled due both to the worn print and lengthy run-time.

To be honest, when I first saw this one years back, I don’t remember what I thought. Part of this may be because it was during October, and getting a feel for an individual horror film in a month where I watch at least thirty to forty (or as many of two hundred and seventy-five) can be difficult. Suffice it to say I didn’t remember all that much about this one before watching again, which may have helped temper my expectations.

The biggest problem with the movie itself is the almost two hour run-time. The first fifteen minutes of this movie were borderline incomprehensible, even with English subtitles. Easily, fifteen to twenty five minutes could have been cut, and I think it’d have brought a better sense of pacing to the movie.

Though not the film’s doing, the commonly-available print of this film has really been through the wringer. Audio issues, visual issues, odd cuts, it can sometimes be a hassle to get through. Once the story starts picking up around twenty minutes in, things tend to come across more comprehensively, but then a subplot later on sort of loses me a bit.

Given that this movie isn’t that well-documented, I can’t much point out performances I thought were good. The individual playing the Phantom of the Theater House was extraordinarily solid, and probably stole the show. Others, including the younger protegee, were good, but none captured the utter tragic existence of the Phantom (a twenty-minute flashback explaining how he came to be, each minute more heartbreaking than the last, stood out as one of the best segments of the film).

Really, the story could be riveting at times. There’s also some creepy scenes to keep us going (an early one with a troupe of actors exploring a rather decrepit theater house stands out, along with the unmasking), and some good revenge at the end. At times, the film felt a bit more like a silent film than American peers at the time, and the fight sequence toward the end felt weak, but generally speaking, this is a good film.

Sadly, what probably holds Ye ban ge sheng back the most is the atrocity of the print. I think that even those who are fans of classic horror would struggle with much of it, and that can certainly lead to a more negative feeling about the story. This movie is a classic, but I just don’t think it holds up as well as it should, not through much fault of it’s own. Just below average sounds about right, sadly.

6.5/10

The Boy (2016)

The Boy

Directed by William Brent Bell [Other horror films: Stay Alive (2006), The Devil Inside (2012), Wer (2013), Brahms: The Boy II (2020), Separation (2021)]

I saw this in theaters shortly after it came out, and while I didn’t love it, I thought it was sort of interesting, albeit generic at times. Seeing it again for the first time in a few years, I pretty much feel the same way, which, in this case, is mostly positive, as the story’s grown on me.

The best part about this film is the atmosphere, hands down. It’s a dim mansion, and while there are jump scares, I feel more of the frightening portions are subtle. There’s a dream sequence I could have done without, but for the most part, I think the scares come honestly.

What helps is the cast of about two people. Sure, Brahms’ parents, played by Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle, are both fantastic, but neither has much screen-time. Ben Robson doesn’t show up until the end, and he’s not exactly oozing with interesting character traits (though to be fair, it’s more due to the script than Robson himself).

So who we have to entertain us for most of the film, providing you don’t count the creepy Brahms doll, are Lauren Cohan and Rupert Evans. Cohan does a pretty fair job throughout, and after discovering the doll’s more active than it should be, really comes across as crazy at times. Evans, who has previously appeared in such horror films as Asylum Blackout (or The Incident) from 2011 and The Canal from 2014, has a very enjoyable performance here, and really, he comes across as quite charming. Luckily, Cohan and Evans worked quite well together, which is great, as they were about the only important characters in the film.

Gore certainly wasn’t much a factor here, and really, special effects weren’t needed, as the film kept things pretty simple. Like I said, it’s the atmosphere that’s most commendable, but certainly the performances listed above help out. What also can’t be ignored is the moderately creepy mansion, which looked great and certainly helped add to the already well-done atmosphere.

The biggest issue with The Boy is that it sort of meanders a bit toward the middle of the film, which was fine for character building, but it’s not the most exciting material. That said, I did like how Cohan’s character’s personal issues tied in well enough to the film’s plot, and certainly gave her reason to want to stay after discovering the doll she was hired to watch over was alive.

The Boy didn’t really garner much attention when it came out (the director, William Brent Bell, hasn’t done that much before this, though he did director 2013’s Wer, one of the more interesting modern werewolf films), and I can sort of see why. Personally, I think it’s an enjoyable film with some solid acting, good suspense and atmosphere, and delightful misdirection, leading to a rather fun conclusion. While not a masterpiece, upon seeing this film again, and outside of a theater experience, I can say that it’s a solid film and I’d recommend it.

8/10