Malignant (2021)

Quick synopsis: Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is a pregnant woman living in Seattle with her abusive partner. She starts receiving visions of people being murdered and………..actually you know what? A synopsis would not help you that much here. Just watch the trailer, then watch the film. It’s fucking strange.

I watched this on the 25th September, and I still haven’t properly gathered my thoughts about it. It’s something unlike anything else you will see this year. One of the most unique films and I’m still not sure how it got made and given a wide release. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, but also has a weird sense of familiarity. It’s the kind of film I may not buy, but I do want to see again just to experience it.

It’s a really strange film, incredibly uneven. There are moments where it looks slick as hell and incredibly well produced, but then moments where it looks really cheap and kind of silly. I have never both enjoyed and been disappointed at the same time as much as I have with this. Some of it feels like it’s a tribute to horror movies of time past, there’s a definite air of the giallo horror movies of the 70s and 80s, but also very reminiscent of the early horror movies of Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi. It mostly works, but there’s one moment which is supposed to be horrifying but I heard laughter in the screening I went to.

One thing that is pretty even throughout is the tone. It’s consistently uneven. There are some sub-plots here which definitely could have been cut. Chief among them is a romance sub-plot that felt so unnaturally shoe-horned in I wanted to hit both characters with a cheese grater and tell them to stop being so damn horny. It might work if the performances are better, but they’re incredibly flat a lot of the time. So wooden they might as well be an IKEA shelving unit.

Now onto the good. The music is great. Both in terms of the songs picked, and the original score. It’s incredibly brutal in parts, not shying away in situations when lesser films would.

And the third act? It’s the cinematic equivalent of throwing lasagne against the wall and playing in the mess it’s created. It’s chaotic, it’s strange, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The visuals are brilliant in parts. Some of the effects aren’t great, but the actual look and colour schemes are beautiful. It says a lot about both this film, and how much of a pretentious dick that I am, that there are a few scenes in this where I thought “wow, that use of focus and shadow is very Citizen Kane”. There are so many shots here which could have been a poster.

So in summary go see it. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will be fascinated by it and feel yourself unable to turn away. I am so glad something like this can get made, I am all about this kind of big-ish budget experimental cinema. A truly risky move from director James Wan, but one I feels pays off.

See-Saw: Day One (Saw)

It’s that time of year again. The time of year where I actually get compliments on my face, mainly because people think it’s a Halloween mask. Like a creepy art student when they see a woman in a coffee shop, the day draws ever closer, creeping slowly until we’re glad it’s over. So we’re going to live-blog another horror series. Was considering doing The Omen, or maybe Halloween, but I came to a decision. After chuckling at Chucky, guffawing at Ghostface, and flipping off Freddy, it’s time to jerk off Jigsaw. It’s the Saw series. We start with the first one, because…..because it’s the first one. This really shouldn’t be this complicated.

Director: James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7, Aquaman)

Budget: $1.2million

Box Office: $103million

  • I actually like the credits to this. The font etc they use brings to mind a dodgy 80’s VHS video nasty.
  • Very blue tint over everything. Hah! It’s a blue movie.
  • A guy (Adam) wakes up in a bathtub chained to a pipe and accidentally pulls the plug out, sending a key down the drain. This is actually VERY IMPORTANT, so the film decides to show how important it is by barely focusing on it at all so if you sneeze you miss it. You can’t even tell what it is until much later on.
  • Wait, how long was he underwater for? How did he not drown or something? He must have been in there a while otherwise the other guy would have been more aware of him. And why was he in the water anyway? He could have got hypothermia and died, which would ruin Jigsaws plan.
  • I like that Cary Elwes is in this (as Doctor Gordon). He really doesn’t get as much work as he should. He’s also chained to a tub in this. This entire plan rests on the two of them not being able to pick locks.
  • “what’s your name?” “My name is very fucking confused”. Look, I do love the script to this, but the dialogue is sometimes awful. Yet it thinks it’s very funny, weirdly enough most of the supposedly funny lines go to the actor who also wrote the script.
  • “that’s what they do, they take out your kidney and sell it on eBay”. You can’t sell kidneys on eBay. You have to use Amazon or craigslist.
  • “are you a surgeon or what?” It later turns out that Adam has been following Dr Gordon, so he knows he is a surgeon.
  • There’s a lot of luck in this plan. Mainly, luck that the tape in Adam’s pocket wouldn’t break when he fell onto the floor earlier. How long has Dr Gordon been awake to not notice the tape in his pocket, but also know that screaming has no purpose (and yet also somehow didn’t wake Adam up)?
  • So Jigsaw punishes people for their sins. Adams sin is that he takes photos. Bit weird.
  • The doctors’ tape says that he can only escape if he kills Adam. This would have been a lot easier if, you know, he wasn’t chained to the wall.
  • Tape players in movies are fantastic, always being rewound to the right moment.
  • Adam sticks his hand down a dirty, shitty toilet so he can help…..the person who has just been told to kill him.
  • Considering how much shit is in that toilet, the smell must be overpowering.
  • How has he never heard of the Jigsaw killer? If there was a serial killer operating near me, I would know (and be really annoyed at the competition).
  • Hey, it’s Danny Glover!
  • “he’s not really a murderer”, Nah, he is. Just because he’s leaving them to die but not actually striking the final blow himself doesn’t make it not murder. Otherwise burying someone alive wouldn’t count as murder.
  • So they think the doctor is a killer because they found his pen nearby. How did they recognise it as his? Does a doctor with no criminal record have his prints on file?
  • They’ve established it’s not him, his alibi is someone he nearly fucked. They still make him sit in on a survivor interview, because…..erm, so he can tell the story at this point in the film?
  • Flashback within a flashback. That’s too many flashbacks. This is the first really iconic one, the reverse bear trap. It’s put on someone’s face and when the time runs out it opens, ripping their jaw open. Sexy. To unlock it he has to get the key out of someone’s stomach who is supposedly dead. He’s not, however, he just can’t move. Not sure why the detail about him supposedly being dead is in it. He’s her former drug dealer so it would have made more sense if she had to do it whilst knowing he was alive. Would have been more thematically pleasing and a harder choice for her. She’s actually pleased this happened as it helped her get off drugs. Not entirely sure how, as surely trauma would make someone MORE likely to do drugs. And now we’re back in the bathroom.
  • “you have something I don’t, information” That’s not exactly his fault. If you’re not aware of a serial killer in your own town, that’s on you.
  • “this is the most fun I’ve had without lubricant”. Okay then.
  • Dr Gordon continues work instead of checking his daughter’s room to let her know there are no monsters there. This is supposed to show him as a work-obsessed monster. But he just finishes the paragraph and then goes to check the room. And stays with her, singing songs to her until she’s okay. He did exactly what he should do. He’s doing a job which he can’t really abandon, it’s an important job which he needs.
  • This film is essentially a live-action version of Condemned. That game was freaky. And had more pigeon-collecting than most games.
  • About 50% of Danny Glover’s dialogue is the word “asshole”
  • Actually, love the way detective Sing dies in this. Tripwire setting of shotguns. It’s simple but effective, is the mark of someone who is just starting to set up traps. Although this kind of goes against Jigsaw’s modus operandi to kill people who deserve it, he’s killing a lot of cops.
  • They’ve found a box containing a phone and cigarettes. The phone isn’t useful though as it was only meant to receive calls, not make them. Which is kind of bullshit tbh, because all phones can dial the emergency services in case of….you know…emergency.
  • And now another flashback. This film deserves credit for the main action taking place in one room, but it doesn’t half take liberties with flashbacks.
  • It turns out the doctor was kidnapped by a person wearing a pig mask who sneaked up on him. Why did they wear the pig mask if they were sneaking up on him? All it would have taken is someone seeing them and shouting out “oi, piggy”.
  • “my last girlfriend, a feminist vegan punk broke up with me because she thought I was too angry”. Love that line.
  • The make-up on this is on point. Doctor Gordon looks emotionally distraught and near death.
  • The lights go off so the camera can’t see them, and they start to whisper to discuss their plan. Why did they turn off the lights when it was them speaking that would have given the game away? He could have just sneakily written something on the back of one of the many pictures and threw it over.
  • I can’t tell whether Adams “death” is bad acting or great bad acting. I’m leaning towards the latter.
  • “this thing electrocuted me” how? It doesn’t seem to be part of a circuit.
  • “The guy who paid me to stalk you, he’s a tall black guy with a scar around his neck”. And you didn’t connect this to the story the guy told earlier about the black guy who got his throat cut who was following him earlier?
  • “I don’t care if you covered yourself in peanut butter and had a 15 hooker gang-bang”. Are we sure I didn’t write this?
  • The way they set up Zepp as a red herring villain is kind of genius, to be honest.
  • Adam is just around the corner taking pictures, like a few feet away. How did Dr Gordon not notice him from that distance? He would have seen him, at the very least heard him.
  • All this computer and equipment is set up in the home of the kidnapping victim. That’s not normally how it’s done, is it?
  • And now we have the scene; the one that defines this film; Doctor Gordon sawing his leg off. I do like how brutal this bit is, but after seeing it done differently in another film, it could be done a lot better.
  • This is where it goes from being good to great; the ending. It turns out Zepp was just another player in the game, the actual Jigsaw rises up, turns out he was the body in the middle of the room. A great twist, like, nobody saw it coming. Mainly because it’s a bit strange. I mean, nobody noticed him breathing for about 6 hours? He didn’t move, defecate, or even cough in that entire time? An ageing cancer patient managed to stay perfectly still on a cold floor for that length of time? But forgetting that this is a magnificent piece of storytelling.
  • “The key is in the bathtub”. Two points: 1) the film gave no indication that was important. 2) Let’s say it didn’t go down the plughole when he emptied it. That means he’d be able to unlock his chain and escape almost instantly.
  • I do like this film more than the others, mainly because it forgoes the torture-porn the series became known for tight plotting and character work. It’s not perfect, there are a few moments which are inconsistent with character motivations etc. And the timing is a bit off at times with nothing happening for hours in-universe.

So, day one down. And that’s the best one out of the way. I can’t remember exactly when they started going downhill, but I know it happened and I’ve got that to look forward to.

The Conjuring 2

First off, yes, it is better than Annabelle, although for it to be worse than Annabelle it would have to be basically a group of people shining torches and going “woo” in the dark (and Most Haunted have already got that covered). It contains some good scares, it’s beautifully directed and it has child actors who are actually good.

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More of which later

I preferred this to the first one too, which was one of the most highly regarded horror films of the last few years. Does this mean it’s better? I have no idea, I’m aware of how strong personal bias can be, and I saw the first one in a house, whereas this one I saw in cinema, and horror is a genre made for cinema. Not just for the darkness and the volume, but also because of instant audience feedback, much like laughing, when you hear other people be scared it sets the tone and makes you more scared. And of course you’re forced to pay attention to it, you can’t sit there checking your phone (well, you can, but if you do, you’re a c*nt).

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I also worry part of me preferring this is because it’s set in England, and as such it’s nice to see all the little nods and references. Sadly this usually means there’s one other risk; Americans attempting English accents. Luckily they cast an actual English actress as the mother, oddly enough though some of the kids aren’t English, one’s American and one’s Australian. But aside from a few minor vocal discrepancies, it’s very hard to notice and you could easily believe they’re English. Whilst we’re on the subject; when did actress’s in horror films get so good? It’s supposed to be a cliche that if you’re on a film set surrounded by people who can’t act you’re either on a porn or a horror. Yet with Maika Monroe in It Follows, and now Madison Wolfe in this, studios will no longer be able to get away with dud casting. I cannot overestimate how strong Madison Wolfe’s performance is in this, giving a performance well beyond her 13 years, bringing to mind Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She’s been in other films before but usually as a “main character when she was younger”, but on this the entire film is dependent on her. If you don’t buy her character and her fear, then the film is dead quicker than one of Henry VIII’s wives.

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The other performances? Well they’re okay, Vera Farmiga seems to be slightly phoning it in as Lorraine Warren this time, Patrick Wilson doesn’t have much to do but furrow his brow, Lauren Esposito does well with what she’s given but reminds me too much of someone I know for that not to be a distraction. Make no mistake though, this is definitely Wolfe’s film and I’m looking forward to see where her career goes from here, she’s definitely got potential. Special mention must also go to the make-up team, who do a fantastic job on the characters, making you question whether they’re possessed or just really exhausted, the pale faces the red eyes really help sell the fear contained within the film. Praise must also go to James Wan, who’s directorial style makes me really excited about Aquaman (which is something I never thought I’d say). There’s a fantastic shot near the end of one of the children standing near an open window in the rain and it just looks perfect, it’s like a poster shot it’s so sublime.

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Very similar to this, but better

Now, onto the bad, again, the story is a little weak. It repeats the same story beats as a lot of horror films as such you’re never really invested in it and you don’t lose yourself in the moment, and it all got a bit silly towards the end. There’s a reveal at the end (which I won’t spoil for you) which they seem to use as an excuse to throw in different “scary” images and characters, but not really that effectively, it’s too short to stick with you, but so long that you get bored with it, almost like they were trying to get as many iconic characters invented for potential spin offs as they could. Secondly, the scares. Now, this film does have some great scares, but they won’t stick with you, some of them are almost literally a guy sneaking up behind you and saying “boo”, they’re instant scares. They make you jump and provide good reaction shots for people to use in publicity, but once you leave the cinema all fear is over. You don’t see the world differently like you did after It Follows, you’re not left changed by the experience, every scare takes place in the moment. As such it’s destined to be one of those films teenagers watch in groups and sit in the dark (a genre I shall now deem; “frat house horror” as that seems to be the most popular place to watch horror movies according to American TV and films). Basically, it’s the feature length equivalent of one of those jump scare videos your asshole friend sends you, only over two hours long. Oh, that’s another point, this film’s over two hours long (two and a half if include trailers). That’s way, way WAY too long for it to keep momentum. The longer a film, the more chance someone will have to leave to go piss, which in a cinema completely breaks all immersion.

So to sum up;

If you like horror (or are interested in film-making) then see this film, but it won’t change your mind if you don’t like the genre.

If You Liked This:

Watch: The Conjuring, obvious really. Now you don’t need to have seen that film to understand the sequel as it does a pretty good job of telling you about the characters without it seeming like it’s repeating itself.

Read: About the Enfield Poltergeist, the situation which this film is based on.