Before anything else, horror director James Wan is a master of describing ownership. Of course, we see it in abundance Annoying series, in which countless bodies are puppeteered by evil spirits. We also attest to this in Saw franchise, where the sad influence of Jigsaw holds his victims to pale themselves or others. Wan’s entire career has pondered what exactly it is about the idea of ownership that shakes us to our cores. Decades after his cinematic debut, Malignant, or, more specifically, the last moment of the film, finally answers that question.
Malignant follows Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis), a young woman who, after being attacked by her abusive husband, is regularly consumed by visions of a hooded figure committing serious murder. It wasn’t long before Madison discovered that these weren’t just visions – they were happening in real life.
For many of the Malignant, Wan relies on campy acting and jump scares to keep the solid, if not tied to the unimaginative, treading fun story, and its viewers. He confidently refrains from presenting the film’s true genius until the final action, and at this point it unexpectedly mutates into a masterclass of mind-bending, absurdist psychological horror. And yes, we’ll talk about that twist.
Footage from the hospital shows Madison being a patient as a child revealed she was born with an advanced teratoma. A teratoma is a type of tumor that can consist of body parts such as teeth and hair and nails, and in MalignantCase, the grown arms and legs of this one and a self-thinking. Madison’s teratoma, nicknamed “Gabriel,” began to take over Madison’s brain and use her body for evil. To suppress her, doctors wrapped her neatly back in Madison’s skull, until years later when her husband’s attack revived her. Gabriel began to recapture his host’s mind (think Tyler Durden but a giant lump, oh, for us Harry Potter fans, once you realize Voldemort is camping in the back of Quirrell’s head), which unknowingly caused him to be killed.
So what is it, exactly, that makes Malignanttoo scared of the twist? Perhaps it would be better to serve us to first answer the question of why Wan’s preoccupation with property makes him one of the greatest modern horror directors. Of course, the idea of having a demon (or whatever, really) is terrifying in itself. This causes you to lose total control of your body and mind. Since lack of control is the root of most fears, it makes sense that ownership is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. But throughout his career, Wan has proven the desire to dig a little into the subject than that.
Saw (2004) is not your average film of ownership. It lacks any of the classic elements of belonging: The religion, the exorcism, the inability of the host to control his actions. But Wan managed to push the franchise to the upper echelon of the genre by introducing one thing: The element of choice. When, in the original film, Lawrence (Cary Elwes) sees his own leg, he picks it up. And when, in Saw III, Allison’s (Dina Meyer) hand is burned with a bastard acid, she’s the one who drops the deadly one. And of course, the person reflects with his own eyes Saw II technically not have to do that
But what does it have to do with belonging? In the case of Saw franchise, Jigsaw is the owner, and his evils certainly depend on the fact that he gives his victims a choice. They may do something horrible to themselves or others, or they may just die. That’s the game. And in Jigsaw’s eyes, he didn’t put his victims in their impossible situations, but the victims themselves. If they do not act cruelly or immorally in some way, they will be safe. He also understands that human instinct works in a way that, while there may be a definite choice to save yourself or others, we are likely to do whatever it takes to save our own skin. In a way, then, the victims possessed themselves, and Jigsaw only helped them with their punishment. And so, in their moment of choice, the person on the tricycle is not the real opponent. He simply lit the enemy inside.
This theme is full circle—spiral, if desired – in Malignant. In the beginning, Malignant seems like your average, run-of-the-mill horror movie. Bad things keep happening to a person, and he doesn’t know why. But the rotation shows that, in the most technical sense, Madison is doing it herself. His own brain works against him. When his wife pushes her head against the wall, it just wakes up the monster that is always inside her, just like the Jigsaw game tests our ability to bring harm to ourselves and others.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Madison’s particular case is that she didn’t realize the existence was happening. In Wan’s more straightforward films like The conjuring, the staff and those around them are aware that something bad is happening. Similarly, in Saw franchise, the characters understand that they are faced with a choice that is… less than ideal. But Madison spent a lot on Malignant trying to solve the mystery of Gabriel’s murder, like those around him. The only thing more frightening than having a monster inside you is having a monster inside you that you didn’t know was there, or hid from yourself. (Who would have thought they could actually stick their hand in a bastard acid if it went down?)
But is Wan’s view on the matter completely pessimistic? Or, after decades of exploring this theme, has he found a way to break the cycle? His filmography to date has proven that existence requires a kind of self -sacrifice. Nasa Saw franchise, the sacrifice is a part of two or two, or even a lifetime. In his paranormal films like Insulting at The conjuring, it is the violent horror of the body that accompanies exorcism, which reflects a belief in spirit and morality in unseen evil energy. Sa Malignant, the sacrifice is more complicated: Madison must banish the malignant tumor from her body, which, despite all its obvious evil, she still is.
But the key element here is Madison’s choice to remove Gabriel from her body and put him in a place where she can observe and control it. He is not being forced out of her by a paranormal investigator or a man with a moral obsession. He simply chose to free the inner demon that had followed him throughout his life, without the influence of others.
An external, social moral code is a key element of Wan films, which Malignant trading for an internal moral code. Where the Saw The franchise is ultimately about who has the power to judge others (whether Jigsaw or police or victims given the option to hurt their peers), and the Annoying the franchise is about religion — a level of judgment and morality that simply cannot compete—Malignant suggests that the only worthy type of judgment is an internal judgment. While MalignantThe possession is the most horrible of Wan’s creations, its exorcism has also become the most cathartic.
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and ardent defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow him on Twitter for his latest questionable culture takes.