Itching for a fix of horror?

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Malevolent is a new Netflix horror film that released about a week ago. We’ve talked about Netflix a bit on the blog, and they seem to be trying to become more of a production company than just a streaming service. The quality of their films has been uneven—to say the least. So how does this new chiller stand out?

We follow siblings Angela and Jackson as they make money through a fake psychic agency. They go into supposedly haunted houses and exorcise them, but it is all a big scam. If this set-up sounds familiar, it is. Instead of a ghost hunting crew who are just in it for the money we have a ghost cleansing crew. We also have Beth, Jackson’s girlfriend, and Eliot, the tech guy along for the ride.

The characters are mostly okay. Eliot seems likable enough. Beth isn’t given enough dialogue to really seem that important. Angela is too muted and expressionless for a lot of the film. Jackson, though, is a prick. His personality is uneven. Sometimes he seems to be a playful scamp, but more often than not he is flat out abusive to his friends and family. His personality doesn’t jive with the crew, and it seems they are all working with him to help him pay off a criminal debt, but why would they? At one point he pleads tearfully “they’ll kill me,” but this sounds more like a solid solution to everyone else’s problem than a motivating factor.

Angela wants to quit scamming folks, and her desire to do so seems less to do with morals and more to do with the fact she is starting to actually see ghosts. However, she chooses to not communicate this with anyone, so I suppose Jackson’s annoyance is somewhat understandable (albeit his behavior is not). They take on a new client, Mrs. Green, who owns a property where her son Herman kidnapped and murdered three girls.

The house the investigation takes place in is simply massive. While it does make for a fun setting, it isn’t utilized fully. We don’t get a good idea of how big the building is aside from the exterior shots. Instead, the building seems to grow or shrink as the plot needs.

The heavy-handed plot (we take a lot of handwringing to get into the haunted house) doesn’t pay off in new ways. We end up with a fairly typical ghost story with some gory twists thrown in. While it does disrupt the genre a little, the twists are telegraphed too much to be truly shocking.

You might be thinking I hated the film based on the review thus far, I really didn’t. It is fine. The film has a decent enough plot, pacing, directing, and acting to keep things movie. Ample tension is built, and the gore isn’t bad, but it never really gets outside of the “meh, not bad” category for me. Horror junkies (like myself) could do a lot worse than this one. For a singular viewing experience, it isn’t bad.

Where the film will suffer is any analysis. The need for narrative twists undermines a lot of the logic of the entire story. Genuinely, a lot of stuff stops making sense the more you think about it. While this doesn’t make the movie a failure, it does prevent it from being anything too memorable.

I would like to see Netflix be more disruptive to genre tropes. Those looking for something new will probably be disappointed. If you need a decent horror fix, this will do the trick.

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