Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Malignant

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Written and directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley
Moderncine / Avenet Images Productions / Black Butterflies / MVD Visual
89 minutes, 2013 / 2015

Here’s the thing: as much as I like horror and gore, medical stories make me antsy going in because I have three Achilles’ heels, with one being scalpels, the second is needles, and the third is anything having to do with the eyes (have you seen Luis Bunuel’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou [An Andalusian Dog])? Stories about insane doctors, especially genre films, tend to dwell into these, and all three cases are true here. But I soldier on…

Allex (Gary Cairns) is in his 30s, and his life has turned to shit. Seven months earlier his beloved wife died of cancer, he is in a dead-end cubical job with a mean boss, and he’s become a depressed and desperate alcoholic. The Man (Brad Dourif), who is never identified by name, offers a solution to which Allex may (or may not) have agreed to, but it will definitely change his life forever.

A self-described “scientist,” The Man (rather than “The Doctor” or “The Technologist”) is a sociopath who believes he’s doing good for the world, much in the way Jigsaw rationalized what he was doing to people was to help point out their flaws to society in Saw (2004). But The Man’s methods lay closer to Stephen King’s short story “Quitter’s Inc.” (from his 1978 collection Night Shift), whereas any measure is worthwhile for the final outcome.

As Allex and The Man figuratively dance around getting Allex off of his dependence on the sauce, it becomes like a whirlpool, spiraling down in more complex rings of violence, mind control, and punishment. And there’s that huge hypodermic with a thick and even longer needle (shudder).

Cairns is very suited as an everyman, in a Ryan Gosling kind of way, and he brings his character to the table. He plays the tension well, and the calm determination of retribution feels natural. Dourif, as always, is superb. After years of seeing him playing crazy and weird psycho- and sociopaths in films like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, as Wormtongue) and Dune (1984, as Piter De Vries) – and let us not forget and bow down that he is the only one who has ever voiced the world’s favorite murderous and foul mouthed doll, Chucky – it’s interesting to see how well he plays normal crazy, with dialog that isn’t squeezed between cackling and cracking wise. He certainly lives up to the legend, and shows that he can genuinely act, rather than ham.

And here is an interesting career note for Dourif: his first credited role was as Billy Babbit in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where he was abused as a mental patient, and now he’s the one abusing mentally challenged “patients.” Should we call him Brad Ratchett? Even back in ’75, if you watch One Flew, Dourif is a standout.

From the very first shots of the film, I thought perhaps the story would follow along the lines of the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button” from 1970, but I was happier with the way this played out instead.

Well written and deftly paced, the tension does nothing but build until its harsh ending. The conclusion did leave some open questions to me, but that did not deter from a story that will definitely keep the viewer riveted, or if you’re like me, even when I had to occasionally turn away because of the three things discussed in the first paragraph (you wanna call me a mama’s boy, you go right ahead; just like everyone has a price, everybody also has a weakness).

The only two extras are the trailer (which arguably gives away too much) and 38-minute making of documentary called “Surgery for the Soul,” which kept my interest throughout.

If you enjoy medical mayhem, or a compelling story that goes beyond the needles and occasional gore, this is still worth it. It’s definitely a dark film, but an adrenaline one that will keep you glued.

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