Malignant
R0 - America - Avenet Images / MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th April 2015).
The Film

Seven months after the death of his wife (Sienna Farall) from cancer, office worker Alex (Gary Cairns) has degenerated into a blackout drunk who barely makes it through the work day. One night on his usual stopover at his usual bar, he gets an anonymous text message telling him not to drink. He disregards the warning and gets drunk before heading home. A man in a black hat and trench coat follows him home offering to help him stop drinking but Alex black out. He wakes up the next morning with stiches on his chest, which a hospital nurse tells him he received after a bar fight (she is not surprised he does not have any recollection of it). Despite another text message warning not to drink, he gets black out drunk the next night again and wakes up covered in blood with a crowbar nearby. He then receives an email with video of him murdering a man followed by a call telling him that no one has to die as long as he does not drink (and also warning him that the video will go to the police if he tries to get help). With the aid of a metal detector, he discovers that something has been implanted in his chest. He seeks the counsel of techno wizard Chad (Nick Nicotera) who advises him to go to a hospital despite his tormentor's warnings. When Alex wakes up again from another blackout, he discovers not only video evidence of another killing, but also the body itself. Alex has Chad install motion-activated cameras in his house as well as a tracking app on his phone. He manages not to drink but does fall asleep. Upon waking, Alex is horrified to discover both a visit from the man in the trench coat (Brad Dourif) as well as video of himself making a nocturnal trip and not returning until hours later. When he follows the tracking app's directions to where he went the night before, he finds that the man has "rewarded" him for not drinking with the killing of someone who has caused him grief (while also proving that he is always one step ahead of Alex). Alex flees into the desert and painfully removes the implant (with alcohol acting as disinfectant rather than intoxicant), but he inadvertently plays right into the hands (and secret lab) of his tormentor whose motives for experimentation may not be quite so altruistic.

Although not quite the mind-bender it wants to be, Malignant makes an interesting follow-up to director Brian Avenet-Bradley's earlier genre effort Dark Remains which, while fairly derivative in its scenario, ticked several of the modern "subtle" ghost story clichés with an admirable restraint and genuine chills. It almost seems as though the scenario was conceived by someone who not fresh out of rehab but someone who escaped a "tough love" program at the point where the counselor was still breaking them down. Although our hero does have to regain control of himself, firstly by not drinking in order to remain attentive to his surroundings, our sympathies lay with the hero because we resent such an invasive co-opting of another person's will after having ruled that they are not otherwise useful to society. Cairns is suitably numb without being impassive while Dourif goes for the plays his mad doctor as an unstable egoist, keeping him from turning into a sadist even as some of his actions are motivated by anger at his victims' defiance. The film is less of a cathartic journey towards redemption and more of a suspenseful wait until the victim gets the upper hand. It may ultimately not resonate emotionally in the way it would like, but Malignant remains a well-made and well-acted (particularly by Cairns) DTV thriller. The Last Broadcast co-director Stefan Avalos appears briefly in flashback as the mad doctor's grandfather.
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Video

This digitally-lensed film is given a suitable single-layer SD encode free of distortion during the darker scenes, with good detail in close-ups and in the textures of the desert sequences, and the usual down-scaling edge sharpening.
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Audio

Audio options include the original 5.1 track which spreads atmospheric sounds and music to the surrounds (opening up a bit more in the desert scenes) and a perfectly serviceable 2.0 stereo downmix. There are no subtitles or captioning options.
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Extras

In the featurette "Surgery for the Soul" (37:30), writer/director Avenet-Bradley and his cinematographer/producer wife Laurence Avenet-Bradley discuss the origins of the project in his research into lobotomies, electronic implants, and his blackout experience with a particularly potent Zombie cocktail. Also interviewed are actors Cairns (seen getting his head cast) and Dourif (who expresses nervousness on set about possibly hurting his co-star while pretending to perform a lobotomy) and their is also discussion of the merging of practical and visual effects to achieve certain illusions. The only other extra is a trailer (1:15) for the film.
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Overall

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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