Home Highlight #ICYMI: Don’t forget to watch this prominent filmmaker, James Wan’s, film ‘Malignant’

#ICYMI: Don’t forget to watch this prominent filmmaker, James Wan’s, film ‘Malignant’

by Grace Sundram

Malignant” is the latest creation from Conjuring” universe architect James Wan (Aquaman,” “Furious 7”). The film marks director Wans return to his roots with this original horror thriller. 

In the film, Madison is paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities. 


Behind the scenes, Wan was joined by his frequent collaborators, director of photography Michael Burgess and editor Kirk Morri, production designer Desma Murphy, as well as costume designer Lisa Norcia. The music is by Joseph Bishara, who has composed the score for all seven films in The Conjuring” Universe, among many others. 



After establishing major franchises like the Conjuring” Universe, what made you go back to your roots with an indie-style horror film? 



I love the gritty horror-thriller genre, and after many years away from it, I felt it was time to return to my indie roots, to the harder-hitting horror-thrillers of “Saw” and “Death Sentence.” After “Aquaman” and between the “Conjuring” Universe movies and the “Insidious” films, I felt like I needed to cleanse my palate and step outside of the superhero and ghostly arenas to try something different. This was very important for me. To do something original. Something bold.  


“Malignant” is very much inspired by the kind of movies that I grew up loving. One that is a loving throwback to the ’80s and early ’90s style of horror-thrillers like the kinds made by the great horror-maestros Dario Argento, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg. But do it my way. And to take this opportunity to try stuff that I haven’t done before, like exploring new themes and stories while experimenting with different aesthetics. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to try something like this again? 

You managed to keep details about this film a secret for a long time, which is no easy feat! It’s a huge mystery, nobody knows anything about it. What are you ready to reveal now that the release is imminent? 

The story is a “genre-blender”; the correct term is genre-bender, but it is also a genre blender in that it mixes a bunch of different genres that I love, from psychological thriller to the Italian Giallo horror to shades of science fiction.  



The story is about a woman, Madison, played by Annabelle Wallis. Madison’s husband is killed in their home by an intruder and she’s left for dead. Shes pregnant and she loses her baby in that incident. She experiences major traumatic emotions from the incident and ends up developing a psychic connection to her attacker. She starts having visions of the attacker and his murderous deeds. Now she’s trying to help the police capture this killer whilst trying to unravel the mystery of why she is connected to the killer and at the same time, trying to not get herself killed in the process. It is my take on the “seeing through the eye of the killer” sub-genre. 

For your fans who don’t know what that is, can you describe what the Giallo style is and how that influences the film? 

Giallo is literally Italian for Yellow, and is used to describe a type of lurid detective/crime novel that has become a genre of its own. A style of murder mystery made popular in movies by Italian filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and many others, who took a well-worn style and reinvented it through their own filmmaking sensibility. You can see shades of my love for this in Saw,” and “Malignant” is basically my take on the Giallo genre.  

The inspiration for the story came from co-writer/executive producer Ingrid Bisu. 


Yeah. Ingrid had this… [LAUGHS] I’m trying to think what the best way to talk about this without giving it away! Ingrid basically pitched me something that became the genesis of the villain, which I don’t want to talk about. When she would tell me these stories, I’d look at them immediately from a horror filmmaker’s point of view and think, “Ooh, that could make for a really cool and crazy, messed up thriller!” And so, Ingrid and I started developing the idea and then it just took on a life of its own. At first, we were just having fun working together, then it became a full-blown story. We had never worked together in that capacity before, so it was really great to cook up crazy ideas and set pieces together. 

How did you develop it and also with fellow writer Akela Cooper? 

We just started plotting it and writing characters down. I started writing potential set-pieces and potential special effects moments, just exploring them. Then eventually, at some point, we approached Akela to help us take it to the next level. Akela had just written a script for us at Atomic Monster called “M3GAN,” which I loved, and I thought she did a terrific job. She clearly enjoys the darker aspect of horror, she isn’t afraid to go there, to dig into the dark corners of the human psyche, if you will, and I felt like that’s what this story wanted, someone who’s not afraid to venture into the deeper end of things. Of course, I have that side to me as well, and you know what? People are surprised when they meet me and they actually see that I’m a very cheerful kind of person, but because I’m able to exorcise my demons in my scary movies I don’t have to be scary or dark at all in real life!


Talk about Annabelle Wallis. This is not the first time that she’s ventured into the world of James Wan, she starred in “Annabelle.” What made her right for Madison? HBO GO - Malignant - Annabelle Wallis (3)

Having worked with her as her producer on the first “Annabelle” film, I got to really like her a lot.  I think she’s the sweetest, loveliest person, who’s also very talented. I knew, going into “Malignant,” that I wanted to work with friends, work with people that I love, and Annabelle is one of those people at the top of my list. We got her the script and she loved it and the character.  We talked about it from the perspective of how – because the initial idea came from Ingrid and the screenplay was written by Akela – it has a very feminine quality to it. 

Even though the movie is very aggressive, I do think that the film looks at things from a female perspective and I think that was what drew Annabelle to it. She loved the idea of potentially playing a mother, playing the loss of motherhood… It’s also a sisterly story as well, between Annabelle Wallis’s character and the character Sydney, played by Maddie Hasson. 

HBO GO - Malignant - Annabelle Wallis (4)

To me, it really is a story of two sisters and their relationship. I think Annabelle was really attracted to that, just getting the chance to play all those different things and play different shades of this character, someone who’s vulnerable and scared but at the same time, needs to find the strength to try and stay alive and stay ahead of this killer. Annabelle has such a can-do attitude for anything and everything. And believe me, I would get her to do some of the craziest stuff and she would have fun playing along. She was such a trooper and such a joy to work with. 

And the actors who play the detectives—what can you tell us about George Young, who plays Kekoa Shaw, and Michole Briana White as Regina Moss? 

Naturally, because this is a murder mystery story, we needed to bring the police force into it, and we found ourselves coming up with these two detectives, played by George Young and Michole Briana White. Because the overall themes and subject matter and even the visuals in the movie are very dark, we felt like we needed a little bit of levity, and these cops bring a jaded, cynical sense of humour to the film. I think that was something that was very important that we wanted the movie to have, just to balance it with the darker stuff that’s happening. 

George is just terrific. Michole is great, she can say so much even without saying a word, with just a look. They play important characters that the audience can relate to because when they hear the story that Madison tells, it’s pretty outrageous. I think that a healthy sense of scepticism is a good thing to have, again because it balances out the more extreme aspects of the film.


HBO GO - Malignant - Maddie Hasson and Annabelle Wallis

Prior to filming, writer/director/producer James Wan sent star Annabelle Wallis a list of films to watch before shooting “Malignant,” including Irvin Kershner’s “Eyes of Laura Mars,” Wolfgang Petersen’s “Shattered,” Dario Argento’s “Deep Red (aka Profondo rosso),” and Brian de Palma’s “Blow Out.” 

The “code name” for the film during preproduction was “Silvercup,” taken from the name of a building in the film, the Silvercup Apartments. 

Production got underway at the same location as the final shoot day on “Annabelle: Creation”— the Clark Residence near downtown Los Angeles. 


The production erected a two-story house on Stage 2 on the old Warner Hollywood lot (now The Lot) in West Hollywood. Stage 1 on The Lot served as the interiors for the hospital and an attic loft. Stunt rehearsals and tactical fight training were conducted on Stage 6. 

Though the film takes place in Seattle, it was shot in and around the Los Angeles area:

  • Madison’s house was a practical location in Pasadena, not far from the famous Norton Simon Museum of Art. 
  • The character Dr. Weaver’s house was in nearby Altadena, and a morgue scene was shot in that city’s Mountainview Mausoleum. 
  • The police precinct was filmed at the Hudson Loft downtown, which was a Hudson car dealership back in the 1930s. 
  • The Seattle Underground, a real place, was recreated in the Willow Studios Basement and a section of it was filmed at the former Paradise Spice Co. in L.A.’s Arts District. Certain scenes were also shot at the RSI Campus in Pomona. 


Actress Mckenna Grace, who starred as Judy Warren in “Annabelle Comes Home,” plays Young Madison in this film. 

Costume designer Lisa Norcia created a pair of boots for one character that was an adaptation of a pair custom made for Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The soles were changed to make them much thicker. 

A pair of gloves Norcia designed for the film was inspired by the killers gloves in Dario Argento’s classic Giallo film “Deep Red.” 

A particularly harrowing sequence was accomplished via an overhead tracking shot using a robotic camera called a Spidercam, which travels along with a cable system and is capable of both horizontal and vertical movement. They are commonly used when filming concerts and sporting events. 

Several of the producers and crew members real names were used on nametags for various background police officers in the film, including “P. Safran,” Wan‘s producing partner on all the “Conjuring” and “Aquaman” films, Peter Safran.

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