Oct 26, 2018
No Film Buff Friday this week as I’m still trying to catchup on Netflix Original films. Today we’re checking out a horror film from the United Kingdom, and for a few others, check out “A Dark Song” (Episode #033), “The Ritual” (Episode #045), “Calibre” (Episode #189), and “The City of the Dead” (Episode #250). And if you have any suggestions, let me know at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Malevolent” (2018), the Netflix Original UK horror film directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, and written for the screen by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos, based on her novella “Hush”. The film follows Angela (Florence Pugh) and her brother Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), two scam artists that fake paranormal activity to prey on families who’ve lost a loved one. However, when working their latest mark, Mrs. Green (Celia Imrie), they begin having to deal with seemingly unexplainable phenomena, and what starts as a haunting film quickly takes a turn for the gritty.
I’m going to have a hard time critiquing this film without spoiling some key parts of the story, so here’s a second chance to bail before I get started. It’s actually not too bad of a film, but it left me with a lot of questions at the end.
So, right away, people who fake paranormal investigations running into actual paranormal activity is a difficult premise to pull off. It comes with a built-in sense of justice for anyone that might not make it as part of the film, which is satisfying in some ways, but it also limits the number of directions you can go with the plot as a whole. Either they run into actual paranormal activity, or they run into something more sinister, and it appears the choice of both the novella and the film was “yes”. I’m sure reading this story would provide enough time to develop that uneasy feeling of gothic dread to sustain the mystery part of this tale, but making a film this short requires revealing information too fast to create the same feeling of dread. It’s not something that you can rush, and it definitely felt rushed.
“Malevolent” begins with the same team running a con on a family with a recently deceased mother. Angela plays her part well, but has a genuine paranormal encounter, which makes her start to question her life. Now, at this point we know little about her life, so what follows is almost a crash course in Angela’s life, from her collegiate career to her hospitalization for psychiatric treatment, to her mother who killed herself by suicide, and, oh yeah, her brother is in deep with the Scottish mob, likely for a drug addiction. And once you’re force fed all of that, it’s time to go to the remote mansion in the woods where the real fun begins. I’m actually impressed that Florence Pugh was able to pull off the transition, and remain as consistent of a character as she was throughout the entire film, given all the changes along the way. By contrast, I cared absolutely nothing for the rest of the team, not her brother who seemed like a total asshole, nor his girlfriend who was a stereotypical victim in waiting, nor the cameraman with a crush on her.
The hard left I teased? Well, that’s when we find out the ghosts in the house are the dead kids the owner and her son murdered, and now that the team found evidence of that, they have to die as well, and we descend into some pretty gnarly torture porn, something I’m generally not okay with, and definitely not in this instance. It was such a tone shift that it made me realize in order to make this film better, the story would have had to commit to one tone, not bounce between asking if what’s happening is real or fake. I felt that was the missing glue to make this film something much better. It’s all right, though, and I even liked the stinger at the end, as it opens up a few possibilities, if they can work up a story that fits the film format a lot better.
“Malevolent” (2018) is a decent horror film that struggles to find a consistent tone, built on a story that doesn’t have time to develop. Nevertheless, the film ends up being more than watchable, and has its well-done moments, particularly Florence Pugh’s performance, strong enough for a sequel. Fans of haunting horror films, or more than a little torture porn, should definitely check out this film, and perhaps you’ll end up being a little more forgiving than me.
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
One Movie Punch: 6.8/10
“Malevolent” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.