Netflix’s penchant for premiering “original” movies on their platform is typically hit or miss, and I’m glad that “Malevolent” for the most part is a hit. It’s kind of taken a well worn premise but adds a bit of heart to it, thanks to the very good performances, and atmosphere. “Malevolent” has a very subtle sense of terror behind it, and while it does rely on jump scares every now and then, what keeps the film consistently creepy are the quieter moments, the instances when we’re never quite sure what’s going to pop up behind a door. Director Olaf de Fleur has every chance to fall in to the trap of delivering shock after shock, but “Malevolent” ends up as so much more.
It’s 1986 and college students Angela and Jackson have built a team of supernatural investigators. Angela pretends to be able to see and hear spirits while Jackson hypes her up as a potentially powerful individual who can solve problems. Still reeling from the loss of their mother who deteriorated from mental illness, committing suicide under odd circumstances, Angela and Jackson have an uneasy relationship. When Angela taps in to something she didn’t expect she decides to quit, but now that Jackson is in debt with some violent criminals, he convinces Angela to take one final job to help him pay off his debts. Intent on helping him, Angela, Jackson and their team arrive to an old mansion run by a reclusive woman named Mrs. Green. Convinced she’s being haunted by the spirits of her children, Angela and Jackson begin to investigate. But when the case becomes too real and much too dangerous, the brother and sister realize something wants them to stay at the mansion for good.
“Malevolent” is a haunting and complex horror drama about the legacy we can leave, and how sometimes we have to accept that certain elements in our lives will just stay the way they are. We can either deny them and go mad, or accept the madness and use it as a learning experience. Florence Pugh is the life blood of “Malevolent” with her wide eyes, and horrified glares, injecting a ton of empathy in to the character of Angela. “Malevolent” is so much more than a ghost film, but a movie about being haunted by the past and by mental illness. Olaf de Fleur and writers Ben Ketai, and Eva Konstantopoulos manage to compound a rather intriguing mystery that works also as a puzzle. What we think is a tale of comeuppance between two would be con artists, ends up as so much more about the pair spiting the idea of death, and kind of coming to grips with it in their own ways. Angela and Jackson play a particularly fascinating dichotomy, as Jackson is a man who is comfortable exploiting people for the sake of money.
Angela however is someone who goes along for the con reluctantly, but then accidentally taps in to something she never thought she had in her. De Fleur doesn’t completely deliver the pay off of what Angela and Jackson begin to experience right away, leaving a ton of the imagery to our imagination. That might work to the detriment of the horror element of “Malevolent” but for me, I think it helps nurture the idea of the sense of inevitability Jackson and Angela face during the course of the narrative. One scene finds Angela talking with a counselor and looking over at a closet that begins to rattle before her eyes. There’s also the final scene which speaks so much how for better or for worse, Angela is a character who is dealt a hard hand in her life.
And she has to figure out how to live with it, or else end up re-living the past all over again. I wasn’t a fan of the sudden detour the narrative takes in the climax with the jolt of torture and blood shed that de Fleur hands us. It’s also never completely clarified why Mrs. Green wanted to get in contact with her children. Did she want to silence them? Was she being driven mad with guilt? Was she too terrified of going mad like Angela? However Olaf de Fleur compensates with an climax that’s both eerie and absolutely heartbreaking, and I was satisfied with richly drawn and spooky “Malevolent” ended as. While it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it takes a potentially tired plot and turns it in to a meaningful examination of the echoes our loved ones can leave behind.
Now Streaming on Netflix.