There’s a fine line that separates the scary from the ridiculous — and the magic that horror movies does is use very well features like camera angles, lighting and the sound itself to make it with the horror to stand out in the narrative. When this equation is not well calibrated, the result is comical, as we’ve seen in some franchises over the years 543 and 1990. And Maligno, James Wan’s new film, walks dangerously over that line to the point of getting lost at times.
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In the middle of all this, the figure of Gabriel enters, the mysterious creature responsible for the crimes and that, in an apparently supernatural way, comes to haunt the protagonist more and more.
And it’s in developing these relationships that Evil really gets attention. The first half hour of the film builds the mystery around Madison and her strange dreams beautifully, mixing elements of sleep paralysis with a state of mental confusion that leave the viewer as lost as the protagonist herself, which helps to make things happen. much more tense.
At this point, Wan shows why he became the big name in horror today. Without appealing to thejumpscare and other cheap techniques, he uses only the setting created by the story and the narrative itself to generate the mystery that, in itself, is the root of all fear. Add to that elements of cinematography itself and you have something very good in front of you. It’s a shadow that creates doubt or a movement that creates apprehension — without having to throw something hideous in your face every moment. You don’t know what to expect and it’s really scary.
Maligno builds up the tense atmosphere very well in the first half hour of the film (Image: Disclosure/Warner Bros.)
The problem is that this weather doesn’t last long. The impression is that, with Maligno, the director had a good idea, but he didn’t quite know how to lead and that the good time he spent in front of action movies, like Aquaman and The Fast and the Furious, made him forget a bit of the basics of horror. The result is to show much more than it should and follow paths that are somewhat questionable.
Turning into B movie
As said, Evil keeps this tense atmosphere of terror very well for just over half an hour . However, from that point on, the great mystery that sustains the tension of the plot melts away as you begin to understand what’s going on, why Madison has these visions, and what the hell this Gabriel is.
And the film is so aware that things have become predictable that the tone changes almost completely from the second third of the plot onwards, becoming much more a pursuit than the horror it proposes at first. Not by chance, he plots a plot twist already knowing that the big secret of the movie was discovered a long time ago.
It is in this turn of keys that Evil gets lost and starts flirting strongly with the playfulness almost on purpose. This is very clear from the moment he stops hiding the monster, starting to show more and more the creature — and what was scary becomes just ridiculous.
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From the second third of the film, he leaves the terror aside to focus on chasing the creature (Image : Disclosure/Warner Bros.)
The idea of the inverted entity works well when it is plunged into shadows, because it causes a strangeness that is uncomfortable. After all, you have no idea what that thing is. However, when this is put in the light, you can only laugh at how bizarre and absurd it is.
This is where it seems that James Wan decided to make a B movie on purpose. So much so that he not only takes Gabriel out of the darkness of uncertainty, but also creates an entire sequence with him in an all-lit room to highlight all the absurdities of the proposal and even make clear the production defects. You can clearly see the latex mask, the wigs in different shades, and even the actor’s movement under the overcoat — for some reason, the monster needs an overcoat to attack and there’s a whole swath dedicated to him going after the outfit to get back to acting. It’s almost as if Wan wants the viewer to laugh about it all.
Interestingly, this whole show of bizarre happens at the same moment that everything is explained and the revelations are made. And that’s why the impression is that everything was done on purpose to take the focus away from other, slightly more complicated problems. Almost as in the illusion of a magician, who pulls the audience’s attention to a point so that they don’t notice what happens next door, Maligno opens up all this weirdness at the same time to throw under the rug the reason for Gabriel’s supernatural powers, which are used all the time by the script, but which have no justification for existing.
Part of the acting doesn’t help much to keep the story at a frightening level (Image: Reproduction/Warner Bros.)
And it’s not even possible to say that this leap from horror to comic is a metaphor for our nocturnal fears that turn out to be ridiculous in the light of day, since the whole relationship with sleep paralysis is so little explored that finding analogies in it would be an overinterpretation of ours. At best, the message the film explores is that relationships built over a lifetime can be stronger and healthier than blood relationships—but, again, this ends up having very little impact on the plot.
A little horror, but still interesting
It all does with that Evil can hardly be classified as a horror film, as the genre is found only in the first third of the plot. From there, when you kill the riddle, it becomes something else, much more oriented to persecution and suspense and with a hint of involuntary comedy.
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But while the clichés don’t bother and take the shine out of the film, the rather average performances do a lot of harm. The whole dramatic moment of the protagonist revealing to have been adopted is ridiculously bad, either because of the dialogue that doesn’t collaborate at all or because of the exaggerated reactions of her sister (Maddie Hasson). They are some faces and mouths that only reinforce the almost comic character that the film adopts.
In the end, Maligno is far away of being one of the best things James Wan has ever produced and will hardly be remembered as one of the greats of modern horror. But it’s a good reminder of how every horror has a bit of playfulness in its DNA — and that the big challenge is to balance it well. This was not the case here.
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The director is already a of the most important names in this resumption of the genre in recent years, mainly because of the series Invocation of Evil and Deadly Games. Therefore, the idea of following an original story that proposed to mix sleep paralysis with supernatural elements placed the film on the fans’ radar. But the film delivers something very different from what the promotional material offers and, as it travels too much on the border with the absurd, it ends up giving itself many times to playfulness.
But don’t get me wrong: that’s not to say that Evil is bad, but it’s also hard to classify it as a horror on the level of other productions signed by Wan. He starts from a great concept to create a really oppressive atmosphere, but he doesn’t seem to know quite what to make of it and gives himself to the action. Thus, what should be scary becomes just weird and, at times, absurd.
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Heads up! Henceforth this review may contain spoilers.
While she sleeps
The plot of Evil revolves around Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a woman who begins to having strange dreams after being visited by some kind of entity that killed her abusive husband. It’s as if she somehow witnessed different crimes, although she can’t explain how or why.
At the same time, the police start to investigate these strange murders and search for understand not only how Madison is able to tell where they happened, but why these deaths always have something to do with the woman’s story.
At the same time , it’s far from a bad movie — as contradictory as that sounds. Leaving aside the almost purposeful playfulness he embraces and the absurdities built around it, the whole plot involving Madison’s past, Gabriel’s origin and how it all ties in with the other characters is interesting and manages to hold the viewer. It is far from being something original and unpublished, but it works.