‘Malignant’ Review: Womb for Improvement

The acting in “Malignant” might be on the hokey side, but who goes to a James Wan movie for the performances? What we want is gore and goose bumps, and in that regard, “Malignant” doesn’t entirely disappoint. Even if we have to wait until roughly 17 minutes before the finale to experience peak splatter.

Until then, this gloomy psycho-horror follows poor, pregnant Madison (Annabelle Wallis), survivor of multiple miscarriages and spousal beatings. Madison has a complicated psychiatric past and a mysterious companion-stalker who may want to protect her, or possibly kill her. All we see initially is a scuttling lump with the posture of Quasimodo and the grooming of Cousin Itt; and after he invades Madison’s home — leaving her minus a baby, a partner and most of her wits — she’s horrified to discover she has a psychic connection to her attacker. When he kills, she can see every slice of his golden dagger, and so can we.

Set in Seattle and filmed in and around Los Angeles, “Malignant” is replete with familiar genre tropes: the cavernous, shadowy homes with creaky doors and unreliable latches; the crumbly psychiatric hospital clinging to the edge of a cliff, where Madison’s childhood records lurk — you guessed it — in the spidery basement. Staticky, menacing voices croak from old radios and Michael Burgess’s camera beckons us into underground tunnels and clambers up walls on the heels of the villain and his victims.

None of this is especially scary, but, if you’re patient, Wan delivers the kind of hilariously sick climax that only a sadist would spoil. Or envisage.

Rated R for gaping wounds and weaponized electricity. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. In theaters and on HBO Max.

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