I like to try and get a feel for what’s Now Playing in theaters at some point during the Six Weeks of Halloween, but that can be more difficult than it sounds. Last year was clearly a bit of a fluke, given the whole worldwide pandemic thing and most theaters not even being open for business and all. Even in a normal year, a lot of horror movies have rather odd release schedules. There often aren’t many that are released during Halloween season. Weirdly, many big horror movies come out on the big day itself. This must be a winning strategy since studios keep doing it, but this year is a little different. A bunch of horror movies are coming out in the leadup to Halloween. I figured I’d get an early jump on this with two recent releases: Malignant and Don’t Breathe 2 (and we’ll probably be able to do another later in the marathon, because there’s a few high profile flicks still to come):
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 1.5 – Now Playing
Malignant – A woman named Madison has endured mysterious tragedies in the past and is now having strange visions of murders and oh hell, this isn’t a movie that lends itself to a plot description. It starts out as a slick, Conjuring-like James Wan-directed haunted house movie, but the dialogue is oddly stilted and cheesy and it’s clear that there’s something simmering under the surface. Once that comes to the fore, things get bonkers quite quickly. There are twists and turns that aren’t so much surprising because you couldn’t figure them out ahead of time, but because you can’t believe a studio would allow a big release like this to hinge on such schlocky nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong, this is nonsense that I immediately fell in love with. It’s not exactly scary, per say, but I found myself laughing quite a lot, especially through the last half hour of the movie. Was that intentional? It’s certainly playing its premise straight. There’s no winking or fourth-wall-breaking or Scream-like self-reflexive parodic notes at all. But I can’t help but think that Wan knows what he’s doing here. That he wants you to laugh, not so much because it’s jokey, but because it’s just so absurd. I’m not sure it matters whether it was intentional or not, because I had an absolute blast watching the movie. Still it’s hard to believe that Wan starts Malignant with this shot of a hospital (yes, that’s a hospital, not Dracula’s castle) and doesn’t know how ridiculous that is:
Much has been made of this film’s reliance on Giallo tropes, but I have to say, I don’t really see it. Sure, there’s a killer who wears gloves and stabs people with an unconventional edged weapon and I guess the sort of weird twists that don’t entirely make sense could be part of that, but these are really just surface level comparisons. Tonally, it’s kinda reminiscent of early De Palma bombast (and there’s that one overhead shot that recalls De Palma’s visual flare, I guess), but even that doesn’t really fit. This is far too slick, nowhere near horny enough, and it almost feels more like an action movie at times. The scenes at the police station feel more like the Matrix (or maybe Upgrade) than a Giallo. Of course, none of this a bad thing. I love Giallos (stay tuned, we’re covering 3 obscure ones this weekend!), but not everything has to be a Giallo pastiche. And Malignant? I I have no idea what it is, and I like that about it.
I really wish that I jumped on this sooner and got to watch it with a large crowd. My showing wasn’t crowded, but I can imagine the sort of raucous energy of a large crowd, and it could be really fun. Or maybe it would be one of those uncomfortable situations where I’m the only one laughing in the theater (always worth it). Look, this clearly isn’t for everyone, but I really had a lot of fun with it and I suspect it will be the most fun I have all season. If you’re unsure and you have HBO Max, Malignant is definitely worth a flier. ***
Don’t Breathe 2 – Several years after the events of the first film, the Blind Man has taken in and raised a young girl orphaned from a deadly house fire. When a local gang of organ thieves attempt to kidnap the girl, they run into… more resistance than they expected.
This feels like one of those things that was maybe conceived as a standalone story, then sorta got crammed into the Don’t Breath mold because Hollywood can’t be bothered with non-sequels anymore. Even if it was originally planned as a sequel, it makes odd use of the Blind Man. First of all, we’ve all seen the first movie and we remember that damn Turkey Baster. He’s not the most sympathetic of characters to start off with, so some of the moments and revelations that are supposed to hit hard in this movie fall a bit flat because, yeah, come on, he’s the turkey baster guy. Second, the whole point of the first movie was that even though he’s blind, he’s got an advantage over intruders because he knows his home like the back of his hand and he can use his Navy SEAL skills to defend himself. This sequel nullifies that by setting the second half of the movie outside of his new home.
The first half of the film actually works reasonably well, and for a while, I almost thought they were going to pull this thing off. There’s some great cat and mouse stuff set in the house, and the addition of the little girl represents an added wrinkle in the formula that actually works well (you see, she’s been getting survival training from the Blind Man, so she’s not entirely defenseless). The second half goes a little off the rails. There are revelations and twists that are meant to turn your sympathies around, perhaps, but as mentioned above, we still remember the turkey baster. I’m sorry to keep bringing that up, but it’s the most bonkers part of the first movie and I don’t understand how anyone thought we could forget about that (or even excuse it, whatever). There’s probably a standalone version of this movie that works a little better here. He doesn’t even need to be a blind man (for the most part, his blindness plays no role in this movie whatsoever).
Look, there should be a market for Liam Neeson-style old-man-action flicks starring Stephen Lang, is what I’m saying here. I know he’s not a household name and so they have to rely on IP and sequelizing modestly successful genre flicks, but this movie could have been better if it wasn’t calling to mind the tighter, more stylish first film. This isn’t entirely without its charms, of course. The first half is fun and there are some story beats that work reasonably well. The Blind Man saves and befriends the dog that was sent to attack him earlier in the movie! Some action beats work reasonably well! The villains are kinda interesting; the one with the blond mullet is a real prick and it’s fun to hate him! It’s got a nice sleaze factor, I guess. It’s ridiculous enough that maybe I’m just putting too much thought into it – I had some fun watching it for sure. Nowhere near as much fun as Malignant though, and it could have been much better… **
Stay tuned, we’ve got some obscure Giallo movies coming this weekend and much more to come. Including, if all goes well, another Now Playing post later in the Six Weeks…