'Malignant' Director James Wan Teases The Film's Mysterious Villain, Compares Film To 'Frozen'

The first trailer for James Wan's return to horror directing, Malignant, just arrived and it looks pretty darn good — but also mighty mysterious. The trailer is deliberately cut to keep a lot of elements of the film a secret. To coincide with the trailer release, Wan gave a rather in-depth interview in which he talked about what we can expect from the film as well as some of the movie's surprising influences.

If you haven't watched the trailer for Malignant yet, go here and watch it now. I'll wait; I have some reading to catch up on while you're gone, anyway.

Okay, back? Great.

As you can see, Malignant is James Wan's return to horror directing. While he's produced plenty of horror over the last few years, he hasn't helmed a horror movie himself since 2016's The Conjuring 2. As you can also see, the trailer doesn't give away too much. We know there's a killer involved, and we know the main character, played by Annabelle Wallis, is experiencing terrifying visions.

But what's really going on here? And why is the movie called Malignant?

Wan tells IGN there is a good explanation for the title, although he doesn't give too much away.

"I'm a big fan of titles that have multiple meanings, and with Saw, we felt there's one part of that that obviously refers to the visceral aspect of a tool, but at the same time, it touched a bit on what the voyeuristic aspect of the film was as well. And so with Malignant, I just felt like this title really encompasses the tone of the film, the subject matter, which actually has a fair bit of medical horror attached to it. So it just felt appropriate."

The Killer

What of Malignant's killer, a shadowy figure known as Gabriel?

Wan says he took great care in crafting the character:

"I'm very aware of the reputation that I have built for myself in the horror genre in recent years, and I'm always trying to find new ways to reinvent myself so that I don't get stale, so to speak. Or rather, I don't want peoples' perception of me to get stale. I don't want people to keep thinking, 'Oh, James is just doing the same thing again and again because he's able to do it. He does it well, and that's all he does.' And I hate that. And so part of the reason, too, why I wanted to make Malignant was that I want people to know that this is not a jump scare film. And I worked very hard to make a movie that doesn't really have my traditional jump scares because it's not that kind of a movie. And I feel like I know that people now associate me with demonic possessions, and haunted houses, and stuff like that. And so with that in mind, I knew I wanted to play with peoples' perception of me."

Again, this is still pretty vague and I'm not 100% sure what Gabriel's deal is. But it seems clear that Wan is saying that whoever, or whatever, this character is, it has nothing to do with demonic possession or haunted houses.

Wan adds:

"My goal was to create a villain that you're not quite sure what it is. Is he a demon? Is he just a human serial killer or someone's figment of someone's imagination? Is he an imaginary friend that has come to life? It could be any of those things. And I think that's part of the fun with the film is trying to work out what the hell this thing is."

A Blend of Genres, and Drawing Influence From...Frozen?

It's already been reported that Malignant is inspired by giallo films, the type of stylish, ultra-violent Italian horror that became particularly popular in the 1960s and 1970s. But I have to be honest: I don't see much giallo influence in this trailer.

Still, Wan is sticking with that, calling Malignant "a little bit of my homage to Argento's Opera and Terror at the Opera, and it really has shades of all those '80s and sometimes '70s of more violent and visceral thrillers." He also adds that he drew on the work of Brian De Palma. "I would definitely say it's more in the vein of Raising Cain, Dressed to Kill," says Wan. "It's in the vein of [his] most outrageous whodunit vision." He also says: "It's horror, but it's also a traditional thriller. It's psychological, it's serial killer, but it's also potentially a monster movie."

One unlikely inspiration for Malignant is the Disney movie Frozen, believe it or not. The plot involves two sisters – Madison, played by Wallis, and Sydney, played by Maddie Hasson. The sibling characters transform Malignant into "a sisterly investigative story," according to Wan. He adds:

"The story roughly is about what Madison's now experiencing. For some reason, she's having these visions of this series of really gruesome, grisly murders. And she doesn't know what's happening to her. She feels like somehow it's connected to her and all that. And her sister and her are trying to work it out. So they're trying to find out what is going on here. And I joke that it's like the horror version of Frozen. It really is. There's a horror version of Frozen in that there is some of that sisterly camaraderie, but with a lot of crazy shit that happens around them."

All of this sounds interesting to me, and I can't wait to check out Malignant when it hits theaters and HBO Max on September 10, 2021.