Released Oct. 5, 2018
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for sadistic violence, horror imagery, and language) – 1hr 29min
Directed by Olaf de Fleur
Starring Florence Pugh, Celia Imrie, Ben Lloyd-Hughes
The year is 1986 and two American siblings have moved to Scotland – their late mother’s homeland – and are trying to make some cash with an elaborate paranormal investigation con job that promises to exorcise spirits from people’s homes. Problem is that the sister, Angela (Pugh), is actually starting to see ghosts, throwing off her brother Jackson’s (Lloyd-Hughes) well-scripted routines. When an old woman (Imrie), whose own son brutally murdered her three adopted daughters many years earlier, calls them out to her sprawling, decaying estate, Jackson sees big money in the opportunity, but Angela senses big trouble. Guess who’s right?
Malevolent is a pretty standard yet effectively creepy ghost story with the clever twist of a charlatan being cursed with the actual ability she claimed to have, until it becomes something different altogether. This movie takes a hard turn going into the third act, a bold gamble that definitely gives the film an inconsistent tone by its very design.
This movie comes out of the gate pretty strong. We get to see the troubled sister and her slimy brother playing their roles in this elaborate charade he orchestrates to bilk money from the naive – in this case, a grieving widower convinced his late wife can’t find peace and refuses to leave their home. We also discover that Angela, who used to pretend her way through these ruses, has now actually arrived in the land of ‘I See Dead People’. From there, the first act sets the table nicely, giving insight as to how Angela and Jackson found their way to Scotland, how this ‘gift’ and her ne’er-do-well brother are negatively impacting her life, and how this all ties into their late mother’s tragic past.
So, with everything properly arranged and the setting changing to a big, creepy, crumbling Scottish manor where you know some serious shit is going to go down, Malevolent shrugs and makes a loud farting noise. It doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with itself now that it’s time for the main event. We get a couple cheap jump scares, some wandering through the halls, and a heaping of backstory from their new client, Mrs. Green, who comes across as an icy schoolmarm doing her best Judi Dench impression. I suppose it doesn’t matter much, because the film just decides it’s had enough of all this haunted house nonsense and becomes something quite different. It’s like the student that changes majors halfway through college, yet discovers that not all their credit hours are transferable, because Malevolent doesn’t make the transition very gracefully.
It’s quite the shame too, because it had a lot going for it early on. Florence Pugh is compelling as Angela, a character that’s haunted both inside and out. Ben Lloyd-Hughes is appropriately greasy as manipulative huckster Jackson, who’s either a complicated fellow desparate for money or just a textbook narcissist who makes compulsively bad decisions. Together, as the main characters, they really gave Malevolent a chance to be something special, and de Fleur’s direction is pretty decent too, but the script just couldn’t keep itself together before plunging into a full-throttled identity crisis. I’m not even sure if the big twist made any sense, unless I missed a key detail somewhere, yet it definitely mismatched everything that had proceeded it – that I certainly was able to follow.
All said, Malevolent isn’t awful, even after squandering its promising first act. However, I don’t know who it could be recommended to, beyond a bored horror fan looking to kill 90 minutes on a rainy day. For that, it’s pretty decent – there’s worse offerings on Netflix, for sure. Malevolent is like going to a nice restaurant, being quite impressed with the ambience of the place and the professionalism of the staff, telling the waiter to ‘surprise you’, and then having the chef send out a ham sandwich with an unpeeled banana under the top slice of bread. Yeah, it’s a surprise, but it sure as hell doesn’t match your expectations from your experience up to that point, and once you remove the banana from the sandwich, it isn’t anything special either.
Malevolent gets a