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Film / Malignant

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"It's time to cut out the cancer."

Malignant is a supernatural horror film directed by James Wan, which marks the director's first original horror film since The Conjuring in 2013. It was released on September 10th, 2021.

Following the brutal murder of her abusive spouse, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins to have ghastly dreams of further homicides. But these murders are also real, seemingly committed by a being called Gabriel with whom she shares a strange connection...

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.


Malignant contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Gabriel's sharpened trophy blade is sharp enough to cut off a man's arm, though it helps that he has some measure of Super Strength.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • One of the female detainees at the prison is inexplicably dressed like she was just at a 1970s disco party. Several others are wearing loud neon outfits that look like they were pulled straight out of the 1980s.
    • When the television is flashing between channels in Derek and Madison's house, and every time Gabriel calls someone's cell phone, the screens display an analog static or "snow" pattern, something that doesn't happen anymore with modern all-digital devices. Just as strange is that there seems to almost always be a radio nearby for Gabriel to hijack, something that isn't quite likely in 2021 given most people get their music and news from streaming devices.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Dr. Weaver conflates parasitic twins (where an embryo does not fully separate into twins, but rather than developing into conjoined twins, one half maintains dominant development over the other) and teratomas (a type of tumor composed of diverse tissue types, such as hair, teeth, muscle and bone). While there is some belief that fetal teratomas might represent a form of parasitic twin, that is not accepted medical fact, and even if one were to accept that Gabriel is a parasitic twin teratoma, that is a far cry from being a fully sapient conjoined twin that can survive the surgery that was meant to remove him. To say nothing of the fact that pushing Gabriel's face, which retains enough skull that he still has teeth, into Madison's cranium and sealing it back up, would probably have a negative prognosis for Madison in the long term at least.
    • Zig-Zagged at another point. It's impossible for identical parasitic twins to be of opposite genders like Gabriel and Madison are. However, Gabriel is so grossly absorbed into Madison's body that he has virtually no biological sex, and it's possible that he just adopted a male identity and name. Ergo, the same phenomenon that can occur with real life identical twins where one of them is transgender.
      • This is also supported by the fact that Gabriel's voice, his only inherently male characteristic, is entirely telepathic, so he could really use any voice he wants.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Madison's husband Derek, who dies first and is indirectly responsible for all the deaths in the movie following the prologue.
    • The women who assault Madison in the prison cell.
  • Badass Longcoat: Gabriel acquires himself a longcoat early in the movie and wears it whenever he's murdering about. Notably, it has a high collar which obscures Madison's face until The Reveal
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: A very short one occurs at the very end of the movie. Madison manages to easily defeat Gabriel and seal him back deep in her mind.
  • Beneath the Earth: Gabriel maneuvers around town using the Seattle Underground.
  • Blinding Bangs: Gabriel evokes this due to coming out of the back of Madison's head.
  • Body Horror: Everything about Gabriel is rife with it. To wit; he's a vestigial twin, albeit a very fully-formed one, coming out of his sister's back, complete with a face and arms. It goes further even after most of his physical body is destroyed, as he grotesquely contorts his sibling's limbs whenever he's using them.
  • Bullying a Dragon: A group of holding cell prisoners decide to harass and pummel Madison the moment she enters police company, unaware that she has a homicidal monster dwelling inside her body. Cue a massacre.
  • Confusion Fu: What Gabriel's fighting style looks like. Considering he's operating a human body backwards with extreme efficiency, any sort of movement, whether traversal or combat, is so unsettling and downright antithetical to how a human being moves that no one can counter him.
  • Creepy Child: Madison used to be one back when she interacted with Gabriel, but that apparently receded when her adoptive mother gave her a sister to play with, meaning that Gabriel was no longer needed.
  • Death by Cameo: Zoë Bell shows up briefly as one of the prisoners Gabriel murders.
  • Death by Childbirth: Subverted. Jeanne had been told by the doctors at Simion Research Hospital that Madison and Gabriel’s birth-mother, Serena May, had died giving birth to them. This is revealed to have been a lie; she willingly left them in their care as she was only 15 when she had them.
    Jeanne: (after seeing the videotape of Serena May) They told me that she died while giving birth. Those lying cock-knockers…
  • Determinator: Gabriel, or more precisely Madison while controlled by Gabriel’s brain.
  • Electronic Telepathy: One of Gabriel's abilities.
  • Enemy Within: Gabriel turns out to be hijacking Madison's body the entire time, via a piece of his brain that is still a part of the latter's.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Madison's boyfriend is introduced lying on his bed in the middle of the day, watching TV and acting cold towards her.
  • Facial Horror:
    • The death of Dr. Fields, who gets stabbed in the face repeatedly until it resembles a bloody crater.
    • In an even more horrific sense, there's Gabriel himself. What remains of his twisted face emerges through a split in the back of Madison's skull, along with a good portion of her brain. His face itself is merely a snarling, misshapen mouth and eyes that are set at haphazard angles.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Hints at Gabriel's true nature are scattered before The Reveal; in particular, when he picks up the trophy to kill Dr. Weaver, his hands, and the fact that they're oriented backwards, are center-frame.
    • In her first scene, Madison complains of frequent headaches, which are explained away as a product of working while pregnant.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Madison seems to be a nurse, while her boyfriend is only seen sitting around the house on a work day. They somehow live in an enormous Victorian house in Seattle. Oddly, the house looks pretty modest from the outside.
  • Giallo: Has elements of one: Striking visual palette with lots of red, the police being mostly incompetent, lots of graphic violence with the killer using an unusually sharp and gaudy object against their victims, a helpless female protagonist tortured on both fronts by the main antagonist, tons of Mood Lighting, Gabriel using a Conspicuous Trenchcoat and black gloves as part of his outfit, the protagonist having visions of the murderer, an old abandoned building hiding terrible secrets — many of the tropes are here through and through.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: No one is watching the women's holding cell, so they're able to pummel Madison mercilessly for a full minute before she starts slaughtering them all. She's killed almost all of them before a single cop arrives, and he decides to stick his gun into the cell while pumping bullets into a Human Shield so that Gabriel can grab him through the bars.
  • Healing Factor: Implied to be one of Gabriel's many powers, which is shared by Madison - the only physical aftermath of Gabriel taking control of her body, which includes dislocating all of her limbs, is a trickle of blood from the back of her head.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Gabriel is very possessive of Madison, to the point that he tried to force her to kill Sydney back when she was still in the womb. He pretty much outright states this to Sydney when he attempts to finish the job in the climax.
    Gabriel: I was saving you for last. She chose you over me! Her own flesh and blood! I should have killed you before you were born!
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Sydney helps Madison take back control of her body by calling out to her.
  • Ironic Echo: "It's time to cut out the cancer." Said by Dr. Weaver in the prologue in reference to removing as much of Gabriel from Madison as possible, then repeated by Gabriel to Dr. Weaver over the phone before he kills her.
  • Karmic Death: The woman with the mullet in the prison cell shoves at least two women into Gabriel’s rampage path to save her skin, so when she is the last one left, Gabriel uses her as a human shield as a guard shoots at him.
  • Kill the Lights: A sign that Gabriel is around or manifesting is the lights flickering repeatedly.
  • Knife Nut: Gabriel uses a blade made from a sharpened trophy.
  • Parasitic Horror: Gabriel is a parasitic twin.
  • Leitmotif: Safari Riot's cover of Pixies "Where is My Mind" represents Gabriel.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: the movie's ad campaign presents it as just another James Wan horror movie, in the same vein as The Conjuring or Insidious. And it is...for the first two acts. From the jail scene onward, it becomes increasingly clear that Wan was having his fun with this one, dialing every horror cliche up to 11 (and doing some Lampshade Hanging for good measure) then ending with a ridiculously over the top finale that feels like it came from a Resident Evil movie.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Throughout the film, Gabriel is implied to be Madison's childhood imaginary friend come to life. The Reveal is that he's Madison's sapient parasitic twin who, when they were 7, was surgically removed aside from piece of his brain that couldn't safely be removed from Madison's own brain.
  • Plot Armour: Detective Shaw survives some rather ridiculous situations through most of the film. In one sequence, he falls several stories onto a dumpster and pops back up to run after Gabriel.
  • Police Are Useless: So useless, in fact, that Gabriel annihilates almost every single officer in the station.
  • Psycho Electro: Gabriel can weaponize his Kill the Lights power, including blowing out lightbulbs, disabling an electric lock and causing a guard's pacemaker to explode.
  • Red Herring:
    • Throughout the movie there are many hints that Gabriel is a formerly conjoined twin of Madison who survived the surgery and is now a separate person, or alternatively a ghost Poltergeist following Madison. Neither proves to be true, as all that is left of Gabriel is a part of his brain in Madison’s head, and the injury in the beginning of the movie enabled him to control her.
    • There are similar hints that Gabriel is some sort of Demonic spawn. Madison and Gabriel were the result of rape, but no indication of who the father is. Both Madison and her birth mother describe him as "the Devil" and "unholy," respectively. His ability to manipulate electricity, extreme strength, and murderous vendetta set him up as some kind of Damian Thorne-esque Antichrist that shares a psychic link with his twin.
    • It is also implied that the doctors are shady but that turns out to not be the case.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: During the finale, Gabriel claims that being rejected by his mother made him a monster. Madison swiftly shuts him down by pointing out that he always had a monstrous personality.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film is supposed to be scary, but its soundtrack constantly undercuts the horror of the events. Many scene transitions feature an upbeat, thumping rock song that remixes the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?"
  • Spiritual Successor: The movie being a gory thriller about power borne of mental trauma involving multiple identities inhabiting the same body and having slight touches of a superhero origin story towards the end has drawn comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan's Split.
  • Stealth Parody: Some have speculated (including RedLetterMedia) that the movie may have been a practical joke by director James Wan, as the the first two acts of the film are rather dark and spooky like Wan's most well known films such as The Conjuring, but then the third act goes off the rails into over-the-top actiony violence with a rather bizarre-looking villain (Madison's conjoined twin brother who is literally sticking out of the back of her head) and multiple out-of-place looking extras, such as the woman who looks like she just walked out of a 70s disco with a giant afro to boot. It's certainly a tonal whiplash.
  • Strong as They Need to Be: Gabriel fails to kill Detective Shaw twice in the middle of the movie, despite attacking by surprise one time, but is able to easily slaughter roomfuls of cops and prisoners by the movie's climax.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: All that was left of Gabriel after the surgery was a part of his brain conjoined with Madison. In the end it is revealed that Madison has been unknowingly controlled by Gabriel’s brain for much of the movie.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Madison sees what Gabriel wants her to, preventing both her and the viewer from knowing the killer is her own body being piloted backwards.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Derek’s physical abuse of Madison is what caused Gabriel’s previously dormant brain to “wake up”, resulting in not only his death, but several others.
  • Wham Line: Sydney drops one when she calls out to Madison to help her fight against Gabriel’s control.
    Sydney: Madison, he killed your babies! He was the cause of your miscarriages! He was feeding off of your fetuses to build himself back up!
  • Wham Shot: When Sydney and Jeanne watch the video of Madison as a child in the hospital, the camera pans over to behind Madison, revealing Gabriel’s true nature as a parasitic twin.
    • The mysterious woman Gabriel has captive in his hideout manages to break free, but falls through the floor while trying to escape... and crashes right into Madison's living room.

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