A fresh, new brand of horror thriller with a surprising mystery, Malignant tells the story of Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders. Her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.
In the following interview, James Wan talks about Malignant and what makes supernatural ghost stories really scary.
After establishing major franchises like the ‘Conjuring’ Universe, what made you go back to your roots with an indie-style horror film?
JAMES WAN: I love the gritty horror-thriller genre, and after many years away from it, I felt it was time to return to my indie roots, to the harder-hitting horror-thrillers of Saw and Death Sentence. After Aquaman and between the Conjuring Universe movies and the Insidious films, I felt like I needed to cleanse my palate and step outside of the superhero and ghostly arenas to try something different. This was very important for me. To do something original. Something bold.
Malignant is very much inspired by the kind of movies that I grew up loving. One that is a loving throwback to the ’80s and early ’90s style of horror-thrillers like the kinds made by the great horror-maestros Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg. But do it my way. And to take this opportunity to try stuff that I haven’t done before, like exploring new themes and stories while experimenting with different aesthetic. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to try something like this again?
You managed to keep details about this film a secret for a long time, which is no easy feat! It’s a huge mystery, nobody knows anything about it. What are you ready to reveal now that the release is imminent?
The story is a “genre-blender”; the correct term is genre-bender, but it is also a genre blender in that it mixes a bunch of different genres that I love, from psychological thriller to the Italian Giallo horror to shades of science fiction.
The story is about a woman, Madison, played by Annabelle Wallis. Madison’s husband is killed in their home by an intruder and she’s left for dead. She’s pregnant and she loses her baby in that incident. She experiences major traumatic emotion from the incident and ends up developing a psychic connection to her attacker. She starts having visions of the attacker and his murderous deeds. Now she’s trying to help the police capture this killer whilst trying to unravel the mystery of why she is connected to the killer and at the same time, trying to not get herself killed in the process. It is my take on the “seeing through the eye of the killer” sub-genre.
For your fans who don’t know what that is, can you describe what the Giallo style is and how that influences the film?
Giallo is literally Italian for Yellow, and is used to describe a type of lurid detective/crime novel that has become a genre of its own. A style of murder mystery made popular in movies by Italian filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and many others, who took a well-worn style and reinvented it through their own filmmaking sensibility. You can see shades of my love for this in Saw, and Malignant is basically my take on the Giallo genre.
One of the things that fans love about you as a filmmaker is that simplification, that distillation of fear, exploring what creates and causes fear. In a James Wan movie, it’s not complicated, but, it’s effective, those little details.
It’s always the small things. That’s why I think my supernatural ghost movies have worked because I think I understand the simple, primal things that scare us, like the creaking of a door, a chair that moves on its own. That’s all you need to do to send chills down someone’s spine. It doesn’t have to get up and start chasing you with a knife, even though that’s a different kind of scare. I feel I recognize the different degrees of scares, from my bloodier more shocking movies like Saw, to the creepier ones of the Insidious and Conjuring films. Part of the fun is to traverse between these levels of frights, and the key is to present them in a fresh and unique way. That’s what I tried to do with Malignant—lull them in with a familiar structure, and then hit them with something weird, unique, crazy, and wonderful.
In Philippine cinemas November 24, Malignant, is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a WarnerMedia Company. Connect with the hashtag #MalignantMovie