A Promising Start Ruined By A Subjective Plot Twist
From the incredibly disappointing (The Open House) to the surprisingly chilling (The Ritual), when it comes to Netflix horror films, it’s fair to say the quality is unpredictable at best. Step forward Malevolent, the next in a seemingly endless line of horror releases coming to the streaming platform this month in a bid to bolster out its horror catalogue. Despite a strong opening and some decent characterisation early on, Malevolent can’t quite follow through with its promising concept, falling back on gruesome, gory clichés rather than sustaining its moody mystery that grips much of the first half.
Set in the 1980s, Malevolent’s story revolves around two siblings, Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Angela (Florence Pugh), as they run a fake ghostbusting business, duping customers into giving up their hard-earned cash in exchange for fake paranormal premonitions to set their mind at ease. After a couple of tasty bites of foreshadowing, we follow the siblings on their “last job”, involving a bereaved mother and her three deceased children whom she declares are haunting an abandoned Victorian orphanage. As the kids set up shop in the house and prepare to do their job, things quickly descend into chaos and the siblings, along with Elliot (Scott Chambers) and Beth (Georgina Bevan) who help them out with the business, find out they’ve bitten off more than they can chew as they uncover the dark secrets hidden in the house.
Given the background of the siblings, Malevolent does a surprisingly good job helping us empathise with Angela who clearly feels conflicted in her role and wants out of the business. Contrasting this is her brother who seems perfectly content to continue ghostbusting despite a pretty dark cloud hanging over him, explaining why he and Angela have to continue with the job. There’s a fair amount of realistically depicted dialogue here too and despite the film slipping into the usual clichés you’d expect from horrors, thankfully there’s only a few illogical decisions from characters that don’t overwhelm the film.
In way ways Malevolent feels very reminisce of The Boy. Both films had a pretty solid concept, managed to sustain a decent level of dread and suspense before unleashing a god awful plot twist that ruins any build up until that point. While there will be some who take to the change in pace and tone Malevolent adopts, the sudden charge into violence and disturbing, gruesome imagery after the psychologically charged, atmospheric opening just doesn’t feel like a natural fit. Those after a slow building pay-off akin to films like A Dark Song will certainly be left wanting. It’s not that Malevolent is a bad film, there are at least some well worked scares and one almighty jump scare early on that’s easily the best moment of the film, but there’s just not enough here to help it stand out next to so many better options in this genre.
With a muted colour palette, an ambiguous ending and a mix of slow-building tension and gruesome violence, Malevolent is a film of two halves – both failing to ignite a sustainable pace and enough substance to see it through to the end of its run-time at a little under 90 minutes. There are some scares to be had here and the characters are certainly endearing enough to keep you watching until the end but the subjective plot twist and questionable ending just doesn’t fit thematically with what’s going on here and much like The Boy, it feels left-field and out-of-place with the tonal mood of the picture. Still, Malevolent isn’t the worst horror to be released this year and is certainly enjoyable enough to watch but it’s also one that’s unlikely to win over anyone bemoaning the lack of quality put out by Netflix.