Several years ago, writer and director Anthony DiBlasi had a minor horror hit on his hands with Last Shift. As its title implied, Last Shift focused on a rookie cop working alone in an abandoned police station on its ‘last shift’ before closing. It’s story of murderous cult members who committed suicide in the station haunting the rookie resonated enough with horror fans to elevate the thriller to cult status. But DiBlasi (Most Likely to Die) hasn’t done much since so it’s a little odd that he’s re-visiting his hidden gem. And no, Malum isn’t a sequel – it’s a re-imagining of Last Shift with a more generous budget. More critics have opted to watch Malum with slightly similar positive responses.
One year ago, Captain Will Loren rescued three young girls from a murderous cult leader and his deranged followers. But the cult’s crimes took a fatal toll on the officer. Now his his daughter Jessica – following in her father’s footsteps – starts her first shift at the same police station. On its final night before closing down permanently, Jessica is left alone if for no other reason but to ensure the station’s closure is uneventful. Some nightmares, however, refuse to die. Somewhere in the bowels of the empty station the sins of the deceased cult members – and Jessica’s own father – are waiting to re-surface.
Malum an Expanded Vision Rather Than an Outright Remake
Anthony DiBlasi isn’t the first director to revisit their own work. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock remade his 1934 thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Both Michael Haneke (Funny Games) and Cecil B DeMille re-visited their own classics. And Takashi Shimizu helmed the English-language remake of his J-horror favourite, J-On – The Grudge. Of course, DiBlasi isn’t any of these directors and Last Shift – a very good little horror movie – isn’t quite a classic. Moreover, Malum isn’t so much a remake as it is a re-imagining. Or maybe it’s an expansion of the concept. Consider it a fan-service movie effort without the fan demand driving its existence. Just how much difference exists between Malum and Last Shift?
All of this is to say that Malum gives us a bit more of its cult to flesh out the nightmarish visions.
On the surface, Malum is essentially the same movie with a ‘bigger’ vision of its concept and expanded mythology. Writer and director DiBlasi and co-writer Scott Poiley retain the basic concept but re-work their cult leader – whose name changes here – and situate their small setting into a somewhat larger world. And the revised screenplay gives Officer Jessica Loren an even more personal connection to the cult complete with a more tragic fate for her father. All of this is to say that Malum gives us a bit more of its cult to flesh out the nightmarish visions. Did we need this expanded take on a simple premise? Probably not. But it works.
Malum Still Finds New Ways to Scare and Unnerve Despite its Built-In Familiarity
If there’s good news here it’s’ that you can re-visit Last Shift, immediately watch Malum, and still find yourself at unease and often quite scared. From the opening scene, DiBlasi ensures audiences that this re-imagining can still shock and surprise in equal measures. Though its similar in plot structure and tone, Malum still feels relentlessly unnerving. This is a thriller thick with an urgent atmosphere promising almost constant threats in the shadows. Some of the scares are recycled from the original thriller, but DiBlasi largely finds new ways to scare audiences. Most importantly, Malum retains its surrealist take on the concept ensuring that you’re never sure what’s real and what’s not.
This is a thriller thick with an urgent atmosphere promising almost constant threats in the shadows.
One of the revisions here that works to increase the scares is DiBlasi and Poiley’s expanded take on their cult leader, John Malum, and his demented followers. Aside from tinkering a bit with their belief system, the changes here mostly amount to more screen time for actor Chaney Morrow (Wrong Turn, Haunt) et al. When done properly, the fanaticism of cults is terrifying and the cast does it right in Malum. The expanded cult imagery that accompanies the performances also adds some depth to the premise. Tasked with carrying the mostly single-setting thriller, Jessica Sula (Split) convinces as the rookie cop in spite of some questionable choices.
Malum May Not Have Been Necessary, But It’s a Disturbing Companion-Piece to Last Shift
Is Malum so much better than Last Shift to justify what’s essentially a ‘do over’? What DiBlasi has done here is tell the same story with many of the same scenes or concepts intact albeit with an expanded vision. There’s arguably a bit more mythology built around the sinister cult that deepens the reservoir of scares. And that opening scene genuinely shocks. But Last Shift benefited from ambiguity and its small scale. Regardless of its necessity Malum still proves to be a relentlessly creepy nightmare that shocks and chills in equal doses. Clearly, the premise brings out the best in DiBlasi who crafts consistently haunting imagery as the thriller spirals into more surrealist territory.