The Revivalist B-horror Irony Dilemma

John Villain
10 min readJan 14, 2022


Hard for me to have suspension-of-disbelief enough to follow all these plot intricacies, I thought to myself while watching the 2021 Malignant film, after my second attempt at watching it.

The first attempt was at my buddy Mike’s room. The guy who has a big ole 4K OLED television, lives with his mother, and saves up money for shit like that. The thing with it is, sometimes, my poor ass is behind the times. Whenever I’d watch Mike play his PS5 (he secured one at launch), I’d be thoroughly impressed with the fidelity of textures and resolution, framerate and High-Dynamic Range, 1000 nits luminance, Dolby Vision geekporn. At the current milieu in video games on a top-tier television it is still visually interpreted as just a virtual rendering of graphics. It isn’t quite the level of photorealism yet, but it is moderately uncanny to see how far the technology has come. On the contrary, I’ve been disconcerted by how Real Life is displayed at that high of a resolution / framerate with true HDR enabled; and so because of the improved framerate, too, the motion of people moving in ultra 4K movies & shows is too convincingly smooth and fluid, parallel to how clear the image obtained from a stable 4K resolution is, which borders on seeming too realistic, in such a way that it momentarily gave me a depersonalized sensation confusing the actors on screen for actual people. Which brings me to Malignant. Not to be confused with the three other movies by that name.

The whole "uncanny valley’' as described really stood out in Malignant 2021. Maybe it was just Mike’s futuristic alien television, but damn. Something was artificially realistic about it… Like the fidelity at which the actors in Malignant were animated seemed beyond photorealistic; it kept making me feel these lapses of depersonalization from how real the "real people" acting came across to me. Suffice it to say, that in itself was a recurring distraction. And therefore, I didn’t quite finish Malignant 2021 the first time—not to mention us shooting the bull and watching with 20% viewing comprehension; I skipped ahead to the end to see what the hell would happen, even though this made Mike somewhat annoyed.

Consequently on the second viewing experience 2 months later or so, I had to overcome this -valley jargon. Granted, my setup is considerably robust, as well. I was watching it on a 32 inch curved gaming monitor at 60hz framerate, and a downscaled UHD 4K signal interpolated to 1440p resolution via Freesync premium on an Xbox Series S. Auto HDR at the bare minimum VESA certified 400 nits. I gotchu.

Now what really sells Malignant in the theatrical trailer is that top-down cinematography scene where the woman is running upstairs and through the upstairs hallway. That by itself I think is oddly understated. It is reminiscent of the old-school survival horror games. Think older Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Interestingly enough, the movie Malignant is probably going to look like what future video games will be like.

Please stand by. I am experiencing technical difficulties.

Hey everyone, the writer starts talking about the actual movie here.

First, I’d like to say this movie has some really abject dialogue tucked into it. There was a part during the family therapy session where the hypnotist says, " blah, blah, the bygone years reconstructing themselves?" Some language there. Little things like that slip by and probably no one notices it. To me, these fucking bygone years still made absolutely nil sense. The closest equivocation in terms of understanding the layering of personas was when Mr. Contortionist Dude is pretending to be like Scream, calling up this bitch like, "Hey you are this one person at this time of your life; the other person at that time in life," and I had already forgotten whose name was who, except for Derrick and Sidney. I fucking suck at remembering names.

Another thing that is glaringly unironic is the film score to Malignant 2021. At many places it doesn’t fit in whatsoever, and not in an ironic way, even. I literally said out loud to my gaming monitor: "ok this synth music needs to cut it out!" No pun intended to cutting anything out. I was at the part in the film where the young married woman (not specifying names to avoid total spoilers) is complaining about chicken dumplings upsetting her tummy. The delivery of that was so remarkably unironic—I couldn’t even pause to find it ironic in any way. But what it leads up to seals the meal: the married dude whose name I do remember, Derrick, or whatever, I believe, says to the wife; ". . .maybe you need to stop getting pregnant—how many times do I have to watch my children die inside of you." It begins to deviate even more from the mundane soap opera feel on the surface and almost sounds satirical. But then what traces of satire is found is thrown another oddball when The Pixies "Where Is My Mind" motif takes hold of the narrative structure; it’s just really jarring and unpredictable, pretending to be cohesive to the film but, again, sticking out like a sore rat’s face poking out of someone’s ass. I guess the song is supposed to be some sort of picayune metaphor for all the duplicity going on. The woman of many faces never tells these people the Earth dimension seamlessly morphs into some edgy netherrealm. It’s like dream language interpreted into film, though, and the people playing a part in this don’t observe these transitions, either. How everything fits together symbolically seems as though the plot elements were pulled from a fever dream. Fetishizing a trophy as a killing weapon: based. Nigga turned it into a damn sword. WHATDOUWANTFROMMYHOUSE! An old face appears in the laundry room screaming. And speaking of macabre, might as well add a touch of Laura Palmer wearing a turtleneck. Let me get you some ice after smashing your head into the wall.

So, uh, how about that Malignant?

It’s like, in Malignant the mundane and the macabre are infused to such a degree that the symbolism in the film loses track of differentiating between the two, and leaves the viewer in a state of perplexity as to whether it was supposed to be ironic or not. I kept copypasting this pseudo-textbook definition around ad nauseum for the sake of spirited shitposting. Allow me to explain.

Malignant is Hitchcocky with those signature orchestral stabs. Malignant is the epitome of "why is everything so clean in this film?" Malignant is "what if I punched a hole in your face with my sword" type trolling. Malignant is a tumor plot twist that is so generic that it turns out to be sui generis. Malignant is the campy background placements of posters that read: Welcome to your future [...] just say no. Malignant is a big metaphor for a bastard baby of aborted ideas and concepts—how many parallel realities are in this fucking film! Send the national fucking guard.

What it comes down to fundamentally is the cancer-shaped reality and the noncancer-shaped one. Alright. So it's really a dualism. What makes it a memorable movie is it leaves me feeling like maybe I experienced a new genre of hodgepodgerie, and my brain has little resource to label it as something. Loved all the Cronenbergian body horror—the comic book / sterilized soap opera auteur feel. The most experimental mainstream movie ever. It's like you're watching the recap of a show: recently on Malignant—imagine the movie Malignant but with laughtracks and Blade 2 rave music… There's still something about this movie I can't place my mind on. It's a bloody anomaly.

A possible solution is to forecast the entirety of it overdubbed with sitcom slapstick. A laughtrack to the birth-mother woman of many faces falling through the roof would really change the tone to slapstick. Especially with the ensemble of appalled faces like some America's Funniest Home Video compilation gone awry. Add in a boing sound whenever the male gaze of the camera allows for a peep at the woman's tush. The audience goes “awwwww” when Gabriel is first shown with the baby arms. All this naturally lends itself to sitcom sound bites with that dang cat screech. What was that about? Jail scene ensemble chanting “Jerry... Jerry... Jerry!"

But then interspersed between all of that is generic stock fodder that feels perspicuously Lynchian. Like the woman in that jail opening scene taking a piss. Need to see more actors use the toilet in movies and shows. Lends itself to some kind of post-ironic realism. Sorry to lend an overused term but: it’s like, in Malignant the mundane and the macabre are infused to such a degree that the symbolism in the film loses track of differentiating between the two, and leaves the viewer in a state of perplexity as to whether it was supposed to be ironic or not. Just let me reiterate that, please.

In a sense the film is not ironic or sarcastic at all because there's this whole soap opera sterility in its delivery. It's trying to take itself seriously but incidentally transcends its own seriousness by including really bizarre framing of plot elements to structure the narrative. And in that extension of it, the incidental plot elements relied on to bridge the pacing of the film comes across almost shallow. I later messaged my boy Mike, "But still, like you said, and where we were both left perplexed, is that certainly a movie like this must be self-aware, ironic in some sense…"

This has ultimately been adapted to a new form of icebreaker: so, uh, how about that Malignant?

In bygone retrospect, or futurespect — didn’t care for the ending dialogue about blood between the sisters. It took away from all the fuckshit that had just occurred, with the solution to defeating the cancer a reversal of matter over mind: mind over matter.

There was something also foreign to the ending schmaltz in particular. As if watching a movie to which the main language isn’t English. So what makes the most sense to me is the metaphor of the movie itself as a kind of cancer, an abortion of ideas/concepts. As if the reason it’s so hodgepodge and bizarrely disjointed (think unironically symbolic of the ghetto-ass spiderfuck contortionist boogeyman) is a metasymptom of the very thing that is malignant in the woman.

I finally get why the surgeons just pushed it back into her skull. It was to represent a mental pregnancy of sorts. While they couldn’t remove it completely because they shared the same brain, I’m still just not over the surgeons being all welp we did what we could let’s just shove him right back in ya. Everyone at family therapy like they had no idea what they were signing up for. Yeah, let’s just ship off this bitch to some unassuming neurotypical family. I mean, come on, I am instantly reminded of how stitlted what’s her name Sidney cups her hands up to the window to peer out of it, as if scripted by amatuer screenwriters lacking postmodern sensibilities. I swear there must be some advanced post-ironicality to it. All resulting from her head smashing into a wall as to bring out this latent metaphysical cancer dance charade. That was so satisfying when the stock surgeons just planted the malignant cancer back into her skull and clamped it. Some repressed deus ex machina type schadenfreude.

It really takes so much effort to reach such a simple conclusion here. This is New Age campiness. The male gaze is even deployed when the camera invites one the possibility of even checking out a woman’s tush (bonus points if the woman is wearing nicely snug jeans). New Age Feminism has reconstructed societal norms to be more aware of objectifying women to a degree in which the male gaze cinemetography intentionally directs the camera so that it doesn’t allow the possibility to peep a woman’s rear, so as to be cropped just enough above the waistline to not invite the possibility. Nope. That had a revival here, too. Still thinking of the cop (thanks for having such an obfuscated name that even when repeated I still don’t retain it) deliberately choosing to faceplant on the dumpster. Insert a round of applause.

Malignant 2021 does pay a few homages / allusions to staples in the horror, suspense genre. From Hitchcock to Halloween (the original) to Carrie to The Shining to Scream to nu-metal The Matrix meets Blade 2 to purple-prose Indie films like Garden State. Where is my mind? Where is my mind? Oh, the fact that it’s so brazenly unoriginal is what makes it ironic because it conflates the deterioration of the mind in regard to the film’s symbolism resulting from cancer. Did somebody say Goosebumps theme song Nu-metal?

Cut it out! How for instance it takes the young aspiring woman of many faces and instances yielding a kitchen knife to stab her pregnant mother. Obviously it parallels young Michael Myers going upstairs with a kitchen knife in the preface to the whole Halloween series. Just larp with me here and pretend the Halloween movie franchise never featured that. We’d be struck by such genius found within Malignant 2021. This movie is sincerely a product of its times, and mainstream audiences aren’t exactly up to par with that yet. You’d think driving up the West coast curvy roads to some fog-stricken penitentiary wasn’t an allusion to the intro of The Shining. This is a tangent universe where Ford Coppola doesn’t exist and James Wan is Wane Jones producing a completely arthouse style away from mainstream horror to see if it will pick up without his former marketable name attributed to it.

The fact that it removes the intimate element of the sister upstairs in Halloween 1978 with the soap opera maternal theme of pregnancy is such a feverish contrast that it serves enough poetic justice to be sui generis in its own right. Forget about The Shining. Forget about Scream antics. Forget about it. Malignant is its own device lacking postmodern irony but intentionally to be unironic, it's own sterilized maternal bildungsroman horror. I love how the sister speaks with such authority on a very obfuscated series of events leading up to the film's conclusion. Even if you spelled it out for me, I still don't fucking get it.

01/14/2022. f-Rezident signing out.




John Villain