Despite his mainstream success, Brad Dourif is one of those talents that keeps coming back to the genre that put him on the map. That’s not a knock against him, since he’s always been entertaining, be it as Chucky, or guest-starring in a multitude of TV shows in a multitude of roles (I loved his spot in Millennium, but that’s just me). Brad seems to be on a bit of a doctor kick lately, showing up as physicians of varied specialties. Case in point: his turn as a mysterious doctor known only as The Man in Brian Avenet-Bradley’s Malignant.
After the death of his wife to cancer, Allex (Gary Cairns) has developed an addiction to alcohol. He doesn’t seem too concerned about beating his addiction, even if it does cause him blackouts. One night, Allex meets a mysterious man (Brad Dourif) who offers to help Allex with his addiction through unconventional means. The Man seems intent on showing Allex that addiction has consequences, and after Allex blacks out, subjects him to a mysterious procedure. Turns out the procedure has Allex becoming a killer whenever he blacks out. Now Allex must figure out if what happened was real, and if so, how to stop it.
The big attraction here is Dourif, and for the most part, he doesn’t disappoint. The way his character is introduced to the audience, slowly and nonchalantly stalking a hapless escapee, is only the start. From there, The Man comes across as sinister and intelligent, at one point using a French phrase to express that he has “black thoughts” in regards to Allex’s drinking. This is of course preceded by a little wooden box presented to Allex which contains black butterflies. It’s a quirk that’s both esoteric and unsettling. Admittedly, it’s not Dourif’s best performance, but he still tries to make it entertaining.
I also give points to Avenet-Bradley’s take on using alcoholism as a jump-off for a horror film. The descent into addiction, and how an extreme intervention turns an already bad situation into a nightmare, isn’t a story that’s told too often. The story is slow, but has enough layers to keep those who are interested in this entertained. Adding to it is Mark Lee Fletcher’s score, which is subtle yet underscores and heightens the tension during moments where dialogue is absent.
However, Malignant has some glaring flaws in certain areas that hamper it’s appeal. Largely, it comes down to Gary Cairns. The problem isn’t that the character of Allex is meant to be as average as possible in order to be relatable to the viewer as possible. The problem is that Cairns plays Allex so focused on moping about and drinking that you’re left with a protagonist who you can’t even get behind. And when the actor playing the antagonist is far more interesting to watch, you know you’re in trouble. While depression is generally an inward focus and not something that is tangible to people on the outside, I can see what Cairns was trying to do. Problem is, even when you’re faced with such a fantastical situation as in the case of Allex, where he ends up killing someone when he drinks, sympathy goes out the window when the character goes right back to drinking.
Relying on the strength of your big name to carry your film is one thing, but when that big name is the villain of the film, you’ve got your work cut out for you if your hero isn’t up to par. In the case of Malignant, that doesn’t happen. Cairns does not attract the viewer to his situation or garner much sympathy, and as a result, the film becomes a frustration and a bore to watch, even with the interesting premise of alcoholism. Sure, Dourif attempts to make things interesting, but even he can’t save the film with the way his character is written. Diehard fans of Dourif may get some enjoyment out of seeing him strut his stuff, but it’s ultimately not enough for this film to be entertaining.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks excellent. The image is sharp, with good colour reproduction (albeit the palette is slightly muted) and some great detail. This is a pretty good transfer, given the film’s origins.
Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty good. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, with a fairly good balance with the ambient effects (although the latter could’ve been given more attention). Much of the activity is focused on the centre channel, with a bit of activity on the directionals. Still, this is an adequate track, and pairs well with the transfer. A Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is also included.
The big extra is the 38-minute doc “Surgery For The Soul”, and features interviews with cast and crew, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Certainly not the quality you’d expect from an indie release, this documentary covers a variety of topics, from the origins of the story, all the way through production. Very slickly produced and very informative.
The disc also includes the film’s trailer.