Malevolent Is Scary, But Never as Scary As Its Own Illogical Story

Netflix’s track record for horror and thrillers is pretty spotty in 2018. Ritual was an early hit for the streaming platform, but The Open House and The Cloverfield Paradox were forgettable duds. As Halloween creeps up on the calendar, Netflix is looking to make amends. Over the next few weeks, horror fans have The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to look forward to. On October 5, Netflix kicked off the Halloween season with ghost-chiller Malevolent. Is Malevolent a scary winner for Netflix? Or it is early bag of rocks for trick-or-treaters?

Synopsis

Brother and sister, Jackson and Angela, move to Scotland where they run an elaborate confidence scam. Jackson passes them off as ‘paranormal investigators’ who offer their services to grief-stricken clients. As part of the ruse, Angela works as the ‘psychic’, who may actually share her late mother’s gift of sight. Their scam is challenged by their latest job at an old Scottish manor that once served as a foster home. The caretaker’s son brutally murdered several children in the buildin’s dark halls. Even as Jackson arranges their hoax, Angela increasingly believes that the supernaturalt truly lurks in the building’s shadows.

Malevolent Gets Under Your Skin In a Promising First Half

Though everything is likely to feel familiar, Malevolent kicks things off with a promising first half. Director Olaf de Fleur Jóhannesson leans heavily on quick shocks and loud jump scares. He delivers a fun, early jolt with a mannequin that expectedly comes to life. But there’s also a disquieting unease that runs beneath the surface. Malevolent is initially patient with quiet moments that allow characters and their relationships to form.

Malevolent also shows some early patience with quiet moments that allow characters and their relationships to form.

Even when Angela and her phony ‘paranormal ghost-busters’ arrive at the old  Scottish foster home, Johannesson seems committed to injecting his movie with Gothic atmosphere. Celia Imrie’s ‘Mrs. Green’ seems off from the first meeting. Seasoned horror fans will likely be able to deduce what’s likely to happen next. Nevertheless, it’s these early bits that hint that Malevolent may be able to rise above its more stale story elements.

A Screenplay With Evil Intent For Its Own Movie

Ultimately, Malevolent undermines its promising start with lazy and illogical story-telling. Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos’ screenplay trades heavily on common horror elements. There’s the skeptical protagonist who may or may not actually see the supernatural. Images of creepy children with mouths sewn shut abound. Even the film’s aesthetics feel lifted from a Hammer Films Production.

A plot twist radically shifts the story from supernatural to very real horror.

Yet Malevolent’s major problem is not its tendency to embrace well-worn horror traditions. A plot twist radically shifts the story from supernatural to very real horror. It’s this second half where the screenplay plagues the movie with gaping gaps in logic that prove difficult to ignore. Why would Mrs Green invite paranormal investigators, legitimate or otherwise, to potentially uncover what she has been hiding? How is Dennis still living in the old orphanage after his crimes were discovered?

First Rate Production Values and Decent Performance Make Malevolent’s Second Half Watchable

Despite its problematic second half, Malevolent benefits from first-rate production values across the board. Its sudden shift into ugly violence may put off some viewers, but the make-up effects will impress ‘gorehounds’. The explicit violence never reaches the heights of the more grisly splatter or slasher films. But viewers also shouldn’t confuse Malevolent with lighter PG-13 haunted house movies.

All of the performances are fine though only a handful of the actors rise above the material. Florence Pugh impresses with her understated performance that perfectly captures her character’s conflict. Her character is poorly written, but Pugh makes Angela feel real. Brother Jackson, played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes, doesn’t fare as well. It’s a generic role and Lloyd-Hughes does little to distinguish himself. Celia Imrie delivers a quietly intense performance early on, but the screenplay forces her to deliver lazy expository dialogue in the climax.

Malevolent Can’t Overcome Its Uneven, Illogical Story

Malevolent is a much better movie than past Netflix failures like The Open House or The Cloverfield Paradox. It’s a lean movie that never overstays its welcome. And no one will accuse Malevolent of being boring. Some viewers may even enjoy it regardless of its uneven, illogical story-telling and gaping plot holes. However, The movie’s sudden descent into slasher-style violence may turn off most viewers. There are simply too many questions raised by the second half to set aside and enjoy the movie on auto-pilot.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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