I just want a quiet house. I thought that if you could hear the voices, you’d be able to stop them.
It’s that time of year when a multitude of horror films come out during the Halloween season: some good, some bad, very few of which will be great. It’s always difficult to gauge when it comes to Netflix Originals, but as horror films go Malevolent is actually one of the better ones to come out this year. By better I mean it’s not terrible, more in the middle depending on how much of a horror fan you are. For those who watched the trailer (which I find to be heavily mis-marketing this film), you might be disappointed to find it is not the intense horror you were expecting. It is probably much better to see this going in blind as much of the more interesting shots are already in the trailer. Not seeing anything might even make for a better, more immersive experience.
Malevolent tells the story of siblings Angela and Jackson (played by Florence Pugh and Ben Lloyd-Hughes, respectively), who pretend to be able to help people who are being haunted by ghosts, essentially swindling innocent families out of their money for their own benefit. The siblings are also dealing with the tragedy of losing their mother who, before her death, was in a mental asylum (the reasons of which are revealed later on).
Angela is much more affected by her mother’s death than Jackson, at least outwardly, as her brother Jackson tries not to think about it. Angela begins seeing things and wonders whether she is slowly going insane, in the same way her mother did. This explores the idea of how death and grief can be so affecting that it can have lasting effects on people’s mental health. The theme of losing a loved one and how that can deeply affect—even haunt—someone is a very interesting aspect to a more simple and clichéd story. Yet this is not really explored enough as the film rather relies on the occasionally obvious jump scare as well as other clichéd horror tropes, which sadly don’t always work.
The cold open is one of the best scenes in the film and helps create a great unease and tension in the beginning. However, the first two acts are quite a slow burn, which could be boring if not for the compelling performances by the two leads. Pugh is the obvious standout of the film and delivers a great, grounded performance. She makes you feel for her character and what she goes through, something that makes the somewhat lacklustre final scene a little more satisfying.
Celia Imrie plays a client looking to rid her house of the ghosts of the children who were killed by her son. Imrie isn’t really given much to do with her character and subsequently seems to not know how to play the complicated role, which at times makes for odd acting choices. Yet there are enough twists within the final act to make things much more engaging.
Ultimately, Malevolent is not a bad film. It has so many compelling ideas and if there had been a little bit more creativity in terms of the scares, it really could have been great. The 80s inspired score adds more of a creepy and mysterious atmosphere. However, in terms of tone, the film suffers from not knowing exactly what type of genre it wants to be. Some parts feel like a slow burn horror, other parts like an intense thriller, which makes it all the more confusing. Once the film starts to get more intense in the third act, it actually becomes really exciting once there’s blood, gore and dark secrets being revealed. This coupled with some dark and unsettling imagery does make for a somewhat enjoyable watch. I would definitely recommend this if you’re looking for a short hour and a half for an understated creepy thriller with some cool horror imagery.