Studio: Gravita Ventures
Director: Brian Avenet-Bradley
Writer: Brian Avenet-Bradley
Producer: Laurence Avenet-Bradley
Stars: Gary Cairns, Brad Dourif, Nick Nicotera, Sienna Farall, Steve Wastell, Jennifer Blanc
An alcoholic becomes the unwitting test subject in a mysterious scientist’s unusual experiment to cure the man’s addiction.
Seven months after the death of his wife, Allex still copes by visiting the local dive bar frequently, and by wrapping up each booze-hazed evening with a memory-killing blackout. Allex doesn’t seem to be too interested in beating his addiction, although someone else certainly is. Without warning, a stranger with a scalpel in one hand and a hypodermic needle in the other mysteriously appears and offers Allex an unsolicited, and unconventional, solution to his drinking problem.
After a freshly stitched surgical scar appears on his chest, Allex’s nightly blackouts end up accompanied by a dead body to dispose of each following day. Without any indication as to how or why, this mysterious scientist is inexplicably determined to teach Allex that addiction has consequences. And until Allex learns to control his inner demons, those consequences will continue to be devastatingly fatal.
“Malignant” is less of a visceral horror thriller and more of an intentional metaphor for grief, loss, coping, and addiction. As such, it makes “Malignant” admirable for injecting intelligent depth inside its plotline when many similarly themed efforts in the genre never give a second thought to subtleties or nuance. Yet that is a surgical blade cutting two ways as its intangible intentions also make “Malignant” a mostly one-man show that has a hard time creating enough entertaining reasons to stay tuned for its message.
By design, Allex is a nondescript Average Joe with an unidentified 9-to-5 cubicle job and nothing of import happening in his humdrum life aside from pining for a deceased spouse. It is a deflated depiction intended to be broad so Allex can be as relatable as possible to any viewer putting him or herself in Allex’s shoes.
Except Allex is portrayed as so unspecific and so singularly focused on pickling his liver that he is an unsympathetic bore. That is a very big problem when Allex features in every scene in the movie, and often as the only person onscreen. It is a challenge for the audience to find a tether into the fantasy when the main character has no interesting qualities functioning as a magnet and instead reads as a distantly hollow figure.
Allex’s struggle is primarily an internal one. Much of “Malignant” is Allex silently puzzling out the mystery of what is happening to him and why as he moves wordlessly from scene to scene. That means actor Gary Cairns’ performance is comprised of a great deal of moping around with a pensively pained expression perpetually worn on his face. Things progress to a point where feeling sorry for a man who refuses to remove his wife’s picture from his iPhone desktop, and who continues to drink even though someone dies every time he does so, is a big ask even of a viewer less prone to cynicism.
The mysterious scientist acting as Allex’s foil is not Brad Dourif’s most inspired performance. Even Dourif’s least memorable roles are still somehow fascinating in the moment though, and he does make “Malignant” a stronger film. But just like Allex, Dourif’s mad scientist is too flatly scripted for even a master of quirk craftsmanship to make the antagonist truly pop. And much like the entirety of the film itself, Dourif’s role requires a healthier infusion of more personalized oomph to keep the film’s tempo from sagging as much as it regrettably does.
The idea behind what “Malignant” wants to say with its story clearly has thoughtful layers for those patient enough to wait out a slow burn and sift through the subtext. Perhaps those more personally connected to themes of addiction struggles will find better reasons to engage with the metaphorical overtones. But above all else, “Malignant” is the partly quiet portrait of one man’s battle against grief through a realized nightmare scenario. And ultimately, the personalities providing the fulcrum are too weak to bear the weight of a moody character study burdened by this much underdeveloped psychological drama.
Review Score: 50