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“Malignant” Promises Both A Return-To-Form and Departure for James Wan

Thursday, September 2, 2021 | Interviews

By ROCCO T. THOMPSON

Fans of James Wan and his work in the horror genre will be thrilled to know that, with upcoming frightener MALIGNANT, the Aquaman director is going all the way back to his video store roots:

“I would describe it as the kind of movie, if we were living in the ’80s or early ’90s, we would go to our local video store, go back to the very end where the horror section or the science fiction would be, and we would go even deeper into the very back shelves,” Wan said during a recent roundtable interview with Rue Morgue. “We would pick [something] up that we’d have never heard of before but it would have the coolest poster on it. To me, those movies on the back of the shelves were the films that really fired my imagination the most. MALIGNANT is a tribute to those back-shelf movies, but doing it at the level that I’ve been making my movies at.”

The mysterious new vision from the mind behind the Conjuring franchise and Warner Brothers Pictures introduces audiences to Madison (Annabelle Wallis), a woman tormented by disturbing dreams of gruesome murders. When she discovers that her night terrors are in fact terrifyingly real, Madison’s torment worsens, and she seeks help from her sister (Maddie Hasson) to uncover repressed memories from their childhood that may shed light on her predicatment. The film is written by Akela Cooper from a story by Wan and Ingrid Bisu, Wan’s partner, who is also featured in the film. MALIGNANT also features George Young, Michole Briana White, and Jacqueline McKenzie in supporting roles

ANNABELLE WALLIS as Madison and MADDIE HASSON as Sydney in New Line Cinema, Starlight Media Inc. and My Entertainment Inc.’s original horror thriller MALIGNANT, an Atomic Monster production, a Warner Bros Pictures release.

Wan credits Bisu with bringing him the early concept for MALIGNANT: “When she pitched it to me, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.  This could make for something really cool and kind of different that I haven’t quite seen before,'” he recalls. “Then, the hard job was, how do I take this idea and translate it to the screen? We jokingly refer to it as the horror version of [Disney’s] Frozen – it’s sisterly love, [a] sisterly bond…I always love watching movies where it’s a sibling relationship, like Phantasm. I thought that brought a lot of humanity to those movies, and I guess I wanted to do almost like a version of that, but with these two sisters. Ingrid loves the idea of telling a love story. It’s not a romantic story between the two leads, right? It’s a love story between the two sisters, [and] I’m proud of the sisterly theme.”

Although MALIGNANT is something of a homecoming after Wan’s first blush with big-budget superhero spectacle, it was important to the director that he break new ground as well: “Whenever I’m making a big film, the next movie, I want to back to my smaller, more intimate films, and that’s kind of what I did [with MALIGNANT],” he says. “I have no idea how people are going to take to this film. I think it’s going to be very jarring for a lot of people. I think they’re going to come in expecting another Conjuring film, another scary ghost story, and that’s not what it is.” He concludes, “I feel like people have started to equate me with that kind of filmmaking, and one of the things I really wanted to do is pull away from that with this film.”

MALIGNANT is in theaters September 10th, 2021 from Warner Brothers Pictures. 

Rocco T. Thompson
Rue Morgue's Online Managing Editor, Rocco is a Rondo-nominated writer, critic, film journalist, and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous. He penned the cover story for Rue Morgue's landmark July/Aug 2019 "Queer Fear" Special Issue, and is a regular contributor to Screen Rant, Slant Magazine, and other cinema-centric publications.