Malignant

Written by Alexander Reams

73/100

I can see a young James Wan watching a Giallo film, and thinking “Oh I’m gonna make some weird shit” (kudos to James Gunn and Chris Pratt for giving us that line). Throughout his career, Wan has riffed on many genres, and now we can add Giallo to that list. The iconic Italian horror genre was made popular in the 1970s, particularly by Dario Argento. James Wan takes the iconic genre and mixes it with modern themes and messages. Maddy (Annabelle Wallis) is in an abusive marriage with Derek (Jake Abel), she begins to experience visions of a sinister force and fights to protect herself and her family. 

This is not Annabelle Wallis’ first collaboration with James Wan, she was the lead in the spinoff to The Conjuring. Given that previous history, it seemed to reason that they would work together down the line, and here they offer up a beautiful metaphor for abuse and toxic relationships. Wallis not only conveys the past of her character but also (quite literally) embodies this person who is haunted by past memories and trauma. While she does not fully elevate the script to the iconic female horror leads we know and love, she still does more than the previous female characters in Wan’s repertoire, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Something Wallis and Wan both excel in is the brilliant horror sequences. Allowing for the pair, and DP Michael Burgess to present unique and original sequences which are unlike any I have seen. One in the early parts of the film mixes visual and practical effects to transform a house into another environment, and the metamorphasis is transfixing and spine-chilling. 

Wan’s relationship with Michael Burgess is a relatively new one, however, he has worked with Don Burgess, Michael’s father, many times, and with the younger Burgess just coming off another horror film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, following it up with a James Wan original just makes sense. Michael Burgess takes the potential shown in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and flies with it, demonstrating his brilliance as a DP, and a master of framing and camera movement. 

Even with all of this greatness, rarely is a film without flaws, and Wan’s latest offering is not without its faults. Akela Cooper, whose credits include Hell Fest, Luke Cage, and 2 other pictures that struggled in their writing serves as screenwriter. Cooper took a brilliant premise by the husband-wife duo of Wan and Ingrid Bisu and unfortunately wrote in watered down dialogue, which should be heartbreaking and is instead laugh-inducing at times. This half-baked screenplay doesn’t take away from what is happening in front of us. Wan doesn’t need dialogue to convey emotion, and this shines in the final act. Transforming the film into someone mind-bending, and full of heart and emotion. In this writer’s opinion, this is Wan’s most emotionally charged film. From the mother-daughter relationship to the sister relationship, all leading to the most unexpected reveal. Which ends the film on a somewhat positive note that also leaves the door open to future stories in this world, which excites this writer to no end.

Malignant Trailer

Malignant is currently playing in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Toni Erdmann

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

In director Maren Ade’s latest film, which begins in current day Germany, Peter Simonischek plays Winifred Conradi, a divorced, unkempt, and oafish schoolteacher. He’s nearing retirement and seems to be suppressing his loneliness and ennui with practical jokes that sometimes go too far. He lacks a sense of boundaries and is either overconfident in the degree to which others appreciate his humor or is simply short on self-awareness. His daughter, Ines, played by Sandra Huller, is a high-strung, ambitious businesswoman who’s regularly forced to put up with insufferable, sexist males colleagues. She’s a consultant for an oil company in Bucharest, Romania, constantly extending her stay in the country at her boss’ request; she’d rather relocate to Shanghai.

The film kicks off in earnest when, at a small family gathering to celebrate Ines’ birthday, Winifred begins to pick up on the fact that Ines might not be as happy as she lets on. To better assess the situation, he does what any good father would do – he goes to Bucharest and starts unexpectedly showing up at Ines’ work with a bad wig, fake teeth, and the persona of Toni Erdmann, an eccentric character who’s background and profession changes depending on who’s asking.

Winifred never explains outright the reason for his appearances. Is he trying to get Ines to lighten up? Is he as unhappy and lonely as he thinks she is, and thus seeking her companionship? Or does he actually think Ines and her colleagues will find his gag as amusing as he does?

Toni Erdmann is a delightfully bizarre, funny, and touching father-daughter comedy that gives us reason to believe Winifred’s real motivation is perhaps some combination of the above and much more. To some extent, Winifred himself might not even be able to fully articulate why he keeps up the act. What’s even more a pleasure to contemplate is why Ines tolerates and sometimes welcomes Toni into the boardrooms and business dinners at which much of her time is spent. Like most great films, the ambiguity necessitates multiple viewings, upon which I don’t expect the humor to lose its potency nor do I expect the commentary on workplace sexism, fatherhood, daughterhood, careerism, loneliness, and the search for the meaning of life to become any less fascinating.

Toni Erdmann Trailer

Toni Erdmann is currently available on VOD