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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:

  • Abandoned Hospital: The Simion Research Hospital, the facility where Gabriel's victims worked together has been closed for quite some time. It appears in the movie's opening shots as a spectacular, crumbling edifice on the edge of a seaside cliff, surrounded by trees, quickly setting the movie's tone of high melodrama.
  • 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.
  • Alternate Identity Amnesia: When Gabriel is in possession of Madison's body, he projects visual hallucinations through their shared brain to trick her into thinking everything is normal. It slowly fails though, as she starts experiencing Gabriel's murders but isn't aware he's using her body.
  • 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. 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.
  • A-Team Firing: An entire police station fires at Gabriel at one point and he is never hit once, even when he's standing still.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Gabriel vs prisoners is hopelessly one-sided. Gabriel also massacres an entire police station effortlessly.
  • 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.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Madison traps Gabriel back inside her mind, but he promises he will find a way to take control again. In the final shot, a lamp starts to flicker, signaling that he is already working on it. Director James Wan has said that while he didn't make the movie with the intent of launching a franchise, he would certainly be open to making a sequel.
  • 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 husband is introduced lying on his bed in the middle of the day, watching TV and acting cold towards her. He turns out to be a bad husband.
  • 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.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Dr. Weaver tells a young Madison that she won't have to fear anything from Gabriel, specifically because he's been given a heavy sedative which is the reason Madison herself is feeling a bit sleepy. Minutes later, his nature as an extreme parasitic twin attached to Madison's back is revealed.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the Establishing Character Moment of Madison's husband, he's shown watching a Mixed Martial Arts montage of ground-and-pound stoppages. He later becomes physically abusive toward Madison.
    • 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. Detective Moss also notes after examining the scene of Derek's murder that the perpetrator's hands were "upside down".
    • "It's all in my head. It's all in my head."
    • 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 husband is only seen sitting around the house on a workday. 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 Mario Bava-esque 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.
  • Hope Spot: Zigzagged and inverted in the climax. As Gabriel closes in to kill Sydney and his and Madison's birth mother Serena, Sydney desperately calls to Madison to try to get her to fight back and regain control of her body. After Sydney's words get through to her, we see Madison begin to strain and start to move her limbs back from Gabriel's configuration, leading the viewer to think that Sydney's appeal worked. But then it seems to either fail or succeed only too late, and Gabriel shoots Sydney in the head and then smothers Serena before gloating to Madison. But then the scenery around him melts away, revealing that Madison has taken control back and has trapped Gabriel in a mental prison just like he did to her, only leading him to think that he won for a moment.
  • 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.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Played straight and Inverted during a phone call between Gabriel and Madison.
    • Madison is understandably and incredibly unnerved by this demonic voice on the other end of the phone calling her by name. Including the name she had before her adoption, Emily.
    • And then the trope is inverted when she impulsively calls him by name, even though he's never said it to her. The inversion is because the horror and drama come from the fact that she, though she doesn't realize it, knows this person or thing that's been haunting 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.
  • The Killer in Me: The scenes with the detectives build up the possibility that Madison may herself be the killer. Ultimately, she kind of was, even if she didn't know it.
  • Kill the Lights: A sign that Gabriel is around or manifesting is the lights flickering repeatedly.
  • Leitmotif: Safari Riot's cover of Pixies' "Where is My Mind" represents Gabriel.
  • Logo Joke: The production logos are all in VHS quality, with static and bad tracking and everything.
  • Mugging the Monster: 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.
  • Multiple Head Case: Kind of. Two faces sharing a single head, in conflict over the body.
  • 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 cliché 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.
  • Parasitic Horror: Gabriel is a parasitic twin.
  • 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.
  • Psycho Lesbian: The woman who harasses Madison in her prison cell is coded this way.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Three: The "Where is My Mind," cover is used three times, after a particular revelation - When Madison tells Sydney she's adopted, when the kidnapped woman wakes up, and when the kidnapped woman crashes through the floor, into Madison's living room.
  • Secret Squatter: An unusual example. The kidnapped woman is revealed to have been Madison's attic the entire time, as revealed when she falls through the floor into Madison's house proper. Neither she or Madison knew she was there, because Gabriel, Madison's parasitic twin, had taken her there.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Gabriel's gloves look a lot like the ones worn by the killer in Deep Red.
    • The plot is very similar to Basket Case and The Dark Half. All three revolve around an evil conjoined twin that commits a series of murders in order to get revenge on the people that were responsible for removing them.
    • Regina describes their first good look at Gabriel as Sloth from The Goonies.
    • The use of "Where Is My Mind" on the soundtrack is probably a nod to Fight Club, which had a similiar plot twist — though one more rooted in the psychological than the visceral.
  • 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 was marketed as a straightforward horror movie, but its soundtrack undercuts a number of its scary scenes. Many scene transitions feature a thumping rock song that remixes the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?".
  • Stealth Parody: After its release, a lot of critics and audiences speculated (including RedLetterMedia) that the movie was a practical joke by director James Wan. The first two acts, while still rather dark and spooky, also feature a lot of comedic misdirections and satirical jokes (in stark contrast to Wan's most well-known films such as The Conjuring); this all escalates into a bonkers third act, packed with over-the-top actiony violence, a rather bizarre-looking villain (Madison's superpowered 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 compared to Wan's previous movies.
  • 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.
  • Technopath: One of Gabriel's abilities.
  • Teetering on the Edge: Averted by Sydney as she arrives at the Abandoned Hospital, even if she's downright parking a car right next to a cliffside!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: While everyone witness to Gabriel's rampage is aware of how unusual he is, no one comments on how he has blatantly supernatural powers like controlling electricity.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • 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.