Time to Admit That I May Have Been Wrong About 'Malignant': The Joy of Changing Opinions on Movies

I'm starting to think that I was wrong about James Wan's latest horror picture, Malignant.

The picture received a star and half out of four from me. I went in with high anticipation and walked out disappointed. I understood that Wan was creating a homage and love letter to 1980s style schlock horror like Re-Animator, Basket Case and Dead Alive. Those style of movies were about being creative within their minimal budget that afforded then some insane creative freedom. Malignant does provide some pretty wild twists and turns, and the final 30 minutes is pure lunacy, but I couldn't shake that it was more steeped in it influences than originality. The sequences at the end were betrayed by feeling like a bigger budget and polished picture rather than the horror movies of the past that it was following.

The movie also had some pretty painful dialogue and some hammy acting, and while there were brilliant moments of directing, it was lethargically paced and dragged in the middle. I feel the craziness of the end doesn't really mesh with the slow-build of the first half. It feels like a movie with some great moments rather than a coherent and engaging story. Shocks and insanity are not enough to make a good horror movie.

Yet it is ambitious and different, and those are usually things I adore. I love movies that take unexpected bold turns and prefer that to safe movies. So, I've been racking my brain trying to sort out why I disliked this movie enough to give it a star and a half, and put it at risk of being on my list for the annual The Breakdown of the Worst podcast episode. My uneasiness of it being put there is further confirmation that it shouldn't go on there, and I'm now left wondering what exactly made me dislike it and if I need to revisit the movie.

One reason that I may challenge my dislike of the movie has to do with the critical response. Many critics seemed to enjoy it, and several critics that I follow have given it enthusiastic praise.  They have recommended the movie on things that I tend to want like unpredictability, bold choices, and embracing campiness. Though I wouldn't deny those things exist, bet feel it is all hampered by pacing, uninteresting characters and expository dialogue. 

Some critics have pointed out that the negativity may be due to expectations and when the movie subverts them, it has caused a negative reaction. It is possible, but I tend to try to watch a movie with little expectations and allow it to go in any crazy direction it so chooses. I critique it not on how it measures to what I expected but rather how it crafted the journey to its real purpose.

I am in the minority among movie reviewers as the Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 76%. as of my writing this piece. But just because critics I respect love it and the Rotten Tomatoes score is solid is not enough to give me doubts.

I championed The Rhythm Section last year despite its 29% Rotten Tomatoes score, and it made my list of most underrated movies of the year. Dallas Buyers Club and Foxcatcher are two movies that I did not recommend despite their 92% and 87% respective RT scores. I have been confident in my decision to go against the consensus in the past, and I look forward to the times that I disagree with Scott on a movie. I don't tend to cast doubt on my initial analysis of the movie just because it is a minority opinion. It is still my experience with the movie, and I need to stay true with my initial reaction.

The bigger challenge is knowing that Wan put his heart into the picture and provided the unique against formula type of movie that I crave. Though the movie for long stretches does adhere to formula and maybe if it took a big tonal and narrative shift earlier than the movie may have worked better for me. During a time when studios are obsessed with recognizable names and adverse to taking too many risks, Malignant isn't the type of movie that I want to pan. It is an original idea and it takes big risks. I definitely don't feel comfortable putting it on a show about the worst of the past year.

Of course, long-time listeners of The Movie Breakdown know that I've felt uneasy about doing the worst of the year show for a long time now. Part of it is that I'd rather give attention to little known movies rather than spotlight the crap of the year. Also, it is due to the fact that maybe some of the movies on the list don't really deserve it and they are pictures that should get a second chance.

The Breakdown of the Worst is one of our most popular shows, and for that reason, it isn't going anywhere. And we introduced the Most Underrated show last year to try to make up for the fact that we do a show all about the awful. Now, we spotlight the best, the worst and the little known. As of right now, my plan is that Malignant will make none of those lists.

Instead, there is a little haunted voice squeaking out that I need to give it a second chance before I officially declare where the movie sits with me. Though as of right now, it rests on my spreadsheet at a star and half, because that was my initial experience with it, and I must be honest with how I felt.

Once again, if you have listened to my podcast for awhile or even just been a loyal reader on this site then you know that I believe that opinions and experiences with movies evolve and change. Movies deserve second or third or fourth viewings. An experience with a movie changes as our life and circumstances change. The movie remains the same but how we feel about a work of art is always transforming and growing. That is beauty of creative works.

I feel a good critic must be honest and truthful about their initial experience with a movie. The first experience with a movie will always be there and is a part of the journey and relationship with that movie; But a good critic is also honest enough to recognize their feelings and opinions may change with another viewing.

There is no shame in admitting that feelings about a movie have changed. Roger Ebert is one of the writers and film critics that inspired me to take this path and I feel he is one of the all-time greats. He is a legend in the field of film criticism and writing. He has also admitted that his opinion on a movie has changed.

His initial review of Unforgiven was lukewarm and he gave it two and half stars, which by his criteria is not a recommendation. Yet in 2002 he changed his star rating to four stars out of four stars and put it in his Great Movies collection. On his show with Gene Siskel, they put Alien on an episode where they listed sci-fi movies that missed the mark on trying to capitalize on Star Wars. Many decades later, Alien also made Roger Ebert's Great Movies collection with a four star review.

In my much shorter time as a movie reviewer, I've adjusted some opinions. I've since realized The Conjuring is a much better movie than I gave credit when we reviewed it for the podcast, and I now would recommend it. Get Out was one of those movie where I recommended it right away but it grew over the months from a solid movie to one of my favourites of the entire year.

Right now, I am leaving myself open to changing my mind on Malignant. I really want to change my mind. Now that I know the direction of the movie, maybe I'll be more accepting of what I saw as flaws and instead appreciate them for setting things up for later in the movie. I don't see myself elevating it up to best of the year, but maybe I will finally realize that I should have recommended it.

As someone who writes and analyzes movies, it is important for me to be open to giving movies a second chance, and to accept that maybe I was just in the wrong head space or that I didn't get it the first time. There is no shame in that. Part of the fun is engaging in a movie and being open to different experiences. Some movies demand a few screenings to really shine. 

The great movies that I love tend to show me something new every time I watch them. I catch a new theme or it speaks to me in a new way. I suddenly recognize something the director or screenwriter is doing that I never noticed before. I am also open to this type of thing happening even in movies that I don't declare as favourite, and maybe were movies that I dislike the first time around. There is an excitement in seeing a work of art bring something new and fresh each time.

In the coming weeks, I may have a chance to revisit and then review Malignant. I really hope this time I can officially take it off the dislike pile and provide further proof that opinions on movies can change.