A not particularly scary horror film marred by inconsistent performances.
Malevolent is now streaming on Netflix.
Netflix made sure to stack the deck this month. A quick glance at some of the newer additions to the streaming service, all highlighted by the “Netflix and Chills” promotion, alludes to their desire to celebrate Halloween. It’s a smart move. That said, doubling down on scary movies doesn’t necessarily equal scared/entertained customers. Not if what’s being offered is anything like the recently available film Malevolent.
Directed by Olaf de Fleur, Malevolent follows a team of fake paranormal investigators – consisting of a brother and sister duo, the brother’s girlfriend and a cameraman – as they go about scamming fearful families. The group would go into a “haunted” house, listen to a sad story and collect some information (used to fool the grieving clients) before pretending to exorcise a ghost. Their routine was solid, allowing them to make enough to stay afloat as a collective. That is until Angela, the sister, started seeing real ghosts.
Familiar premise aside, Malevolent started out decent enough. Well-placed musical cues and some misdirection helped in selling a creepy vide early on. The film’s pacing was tight, wasting no time in getting to the potentially scary stuff. It also avoided the typical drawn-out bouts of disbelief, forcing the skeptical characters to address the supernatural happenings sooner than expected. All of these things were used to build tension, positioning the viewer to anticipate what’s to come before inevitably pulling the rug out from under them. It’s a great set-up. Unfortunately, most of everything else about the film foils this plan, the most damning of which is Malevolent’s cast.
Florence Pugh struggles in her role as Angela. Seemingly unable to showcase any of Angela’s emotions, her acting occasionally undermines the plot; a frightening scene is made less so when the characters involved aren’t responding realistically onscreen. That’s not to say that she isn’t allowed to be brave or that she should become hysterical after every strange occurrence. Pugh should be able to muster up some fear when the film calls for it though, considering her character is most frequently used to play up the scares.
Ben Lloyd-Hughes fares a bit better as Angela’s brother, Jackson. He was able to convey feelings of remorse and show a smidge of growth – both of which were made somewhat believable thanks to a decent portrayal of Jackson as a jerk. He still failed in the fear department however, oddly shrugging off disturbing sights late in the film. Georgina Bevan’s talents are underused as Jackson’s girlfriend, Beth, and Scott Chambers is decent as cameraman Elliot. Both characters are ultimately forgettable though, save for a few scenes with Chambers playing opposite of Pugh. Celia Imrie, on the other hand, delivers a solid performance as Mrs. Green, the owner of a haunted estate.
This inconstant quality of acting mirrors the film’s inability to produce proper frights. A few well-placed shots and decent effects early on somehow led to a rather uninspired ghost story, the mystery surrounding a major haunting notwithstanding. The spirits plaguing Angela are only seen as such because the plot calls for it. They’re wearing tattered clothing, so they must be the ghosts. Nothing about them, beyond the fact that they exist, makes them scary though. No eerie sounds, strange movements, dead eyes – they don’t even provide the obligatory jump scare, opting to calmly walk into a room or unsurprisingly emerge from around a corner before quickly disappearing.
Malevolent isn’t scary, thrilling or any adjective one would use to describe a film of this ilk. The interesting bits found in the plot, including its predictable twist, are weighed down by stiff acting, weak horror elements and lackluster “monsters”. Celia Imrie’s acting could have been the only reason one could recommend a late-night viewing, but even her performance isn’t enough to warrant sitting through the entire film.