Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is a Masterpiece. But No One Cares.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

When one thinks of Steven Spielberg, the word “flop” doesn’t usually come to mind. Believe it or not, he’s actually had several films underperform like Hook and even all-out bombs like The BFG. However, perhaps his biggest bomb is the new West Side Story remake, and unfortunately, it’s one of his best films.

Since it was announced years ago that Steven Spielberg was going to direct an adaptation of West Side Story, many asked: why? What could the cinematic master bring to a musical that everyone already knows and that’s already based on the most classic story of all time, Romeo & Juliet? What many moviegoers didn’t see this past weekend at the theater is that Spielberg is known as a master for a reason. While the story wasn’t new, he created a film that fires on all cylinders, with every element succeeding to the point where the movie surpasses the original 1961 version. Most people don’t realize that a movie doesn’t have to be new or original to be superb, it just has to succeed on every level that makes a movie great. West Side Story does this.

Everyone knows the story. Jets gang member Tony (Ansel Elgort) falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler) who’s brother is the leader of the rival gang The Sharks. Their different cultures make their love forbidden and Spielberg especially seems interested in showing how hate can ultimately destroy the purest of loves. Ditching the original’s glossiness, Spielberg’s West Side Story is gritty yet also beautiful when it wants to be. Recently, period-set films feel like fake Hollywood productions (this has something to do with the sheen of digital photography) but shot-on-film West Side Story feels like a lived-in, raw, and real world. Even though the characters sing and dance. Some of the best things about West Side Story even have nothing to do with the fact the musical already is perhaps the best written musical of all time and he doesn’t rely it’s already perfect score and songbook to carry the film.

There are many reasons why West Side Story has bombed: a pandemic still keeping people away from theaters, sexual allegations leveled at the film’s star, and the fact that it’s not only a musical but a period piece. Whatever the reason it is, it’s a shame more people won’t see this masterpiece on the big screen. From the way the dances are choreographed to the way the camera moves to capture these great performances, every element of this film sings. With recent movie musicals featuring sub-par or autotuned actors, every performance in WSS is goosebumps-inducing. Most musicals record the tracks before production and the actors are dubbed over during filming, however many songs were recorded live for WSS, which is clear from the way the actor’s throat moves when performing. 

We have so few movies left from Steven Spielberg, and audiences may not have many chances left to see the greatest living director’s work on the big screen. This makes West Side Story’s box-office failure a tragedy. Despite film’s small screen-only trajectory getting nearer and nearer, Spielberg still makes movies for the big screen. Years from now when he’s passed on, many viewers will surely discover West Side Story and recognize it as one of his best films and regret they didn’t see it when it was released in theaters. Going to the movies isn’t just about watching a movie on a large screen, it’s about the experience, and West Side Story is that experience millions of moviegoers are sorely missing.

Home Sweet Home Alone: An Odd IP Experiment

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Recently, Home Sweet Home Alone premiered on Disney+. It’s an example of Disney’s use of a new IP they acquired following their purchase of 20th Century Fox a few years ago. Now, what many may not realize is that this is actually the sixth film in the Home Alone franchise. While it may not be that much better than the last two films, it does change up the formula a little bit. Ultimately it’s an example of trying to use elements from a classic film to recreate magic. Spoiler alert: it fails.

In 1998, filmmaker Gus Van Sant wanted to experiment and discover what makes a classic a classic, so he made a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho using the same exact screenplay as the beloved original film. His theory: if everything but the actors are the same, it should still be a classic, right?

Wrong. I thought a lot about his Psycho while watching Home Sweet Home Alone because it feels like they were trying to take what worked about the original Home Alone, all the right ingredients, and see if it would make it a good movie.

The original Home Alone (and technically this one) centers around a boy left home alone when his parents inexplicably go on vacation without him, and he must defend his house from burglars. The problem is that Home Alone’s improbable plot is impossible to rehash without seeming ridiculous.

They tried rehashing the plot by only changing the setting for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York but the movie came off extremely far-fetched, even if admittedly entertaining. There are only so many times you can tell the story of a child left impossibly home alone who must fend off burglars, yet they’ve done it six times.

Home Alone is the type of movie that should never have been sequelized to begin with, and any attempt to recreate its immense and original success has fallen flat.

The new film does something that’s actually interesting. It changes its perspective from the child’s to the burglars’. While this is a clever change, it’s also the film’s biggest problem. Pam and Jeff (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) are down on their luck and think a young boy named Max stole a valuable doll from them that they can sell to get out of a financial bind. So they attempt to break into Max’s house, and, from there, the usual Home Alone shenanigans ensue.

Unfortunately, Jeff and Pam are very likable and not very villainous, and so we feel bad for them when they struggle to retrieve the doll and fall victim to Max’s booby traps. Honestly, the funniest sequence in the film has nothing to do with Max’s traps, but the pair having to climb a simple wall and failing spectacularly.

While changing the perspective is a fresh idea for this tired franchise, it makes the trap sequences less fun because we really don’t want anything bad to happen to this nice, desperate couple whose pursuit actually seems somewhat justified.

Max is really the villain of the movie and isn’t all that likable. But he’s not despicable. And so if he’s not despicable and the burglars aren’t despicable – what are the stakes? The first film had menace to it with Joe Pesci even saying he was going to bite off little Kevin’s fingers and “boil his cojones in motor oil.” Without any type of real threat, the story is pointless. The film was directed by Dan Mazer, who has had a long history with Sasha Baron Cohen, which suggests that the movie might’ve had a darker edge, but it doesn’t. It’s brightly lit and colorful, unlike the often dark and dangerous original. Perhaps family films can’t be dark and dangerous in 2021.

Even though they changed the film’s perspective, there are still many elements from the other movies incorporated such as the family bizarrely forgetting Max at home, a large chaotic family, and a mother having to return home to get her child because there is no way they can contact him (this plot point was a stretch in 1990 but in 2021? C’mon).

Another element that feels like an attempt to recreate the original’s success is the music. Master composer John Williams’ iconic themes are used but they don’t resonate here like they did when they were first used. For example, when Kevin McCallister and his mom are reunited in the original film, it’s accompanied by Williams’ emotional themes which are essentially birthed from the emotion we see on the screen. This film uses these themes haphazardly, not earning them and, instead, making the images on screen feel hollow. 

Home Alone is a classic film that seems pretty pointless to remake (you wouldn’t be able to use that same level of violence used in the original anyway and let’s face it, that was half the fun). The idea behind making this has all to do with making money off of a new IP and nothing to do with having a new good story to tell.

The original Home Alone is on Disney+, and already has throngs of fans who watch it every Christmas. We don’t need this movie to advertise the fact the original is on the streaming site.

For all its faults, the film does contain an amusing connection to the first film. Actor Devin Ratray reprises his role as Kevin’s brother Buzz. It’s a cute cameo but the character is not utilized well. Last year, there was a rumor that Disney paid Macaulay Culkin $6 million to make a cameo in this which turned out to be untrue. If Culkin was indeed asked to appear but turned it down he made a wise decision.

Home Alone was lightning in a bottle and proves that filmmakers can’t create classics, audiences do with their love for them. Despite all the attempts, there is no formula to make a great film – it just happens. Instead of mining all their new IP, Disney should try and make more original films, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll get lucky and create a film that will be adored by generations to come.

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife Isn’t Your Typical Hollywood Blockbuster, It’s a Real Film

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

After years of waiting for a true third Ghostbusters movie, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been finally released (following a year and a half-long pandemic delay) and the result is worth the wait. Previously, a Paul Feig-directed reboot was released in 2016 that bizarrely decided to start over the Ghostbusters franchise rather than be a continuation, and the result was a disaster. The film didn’t utilize anything that made the original films great and played like one long SNL sketch. 

For years, Dan Aykroyd had been trying to make a third Ghostbusters film, but Harold Ramis’ passing made this difficult. Enter original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason. Jason Reitman grew up on the set of the original Ghostbusters movies, even having a bit part in Ghostbusters II, and he ultimately became a great director himself.

In fact, he’s probably a more consistently good filmmaker than his father. Despite the lineage, it was honestly a little surprising that Jason Reitman was taking the Ghostbusters reins, because none of his movies are remotely like the ones his father made (Stripes, Twins, Meatballs), and he had never helmed a big-budget movie before.

Reitman’s career as an indie filmmaker is a rarity nowadays, when low budget success often gets directors a blockbuster superhero movie offer.

With 2005’s Thank You For Smoking, Jason Reitman burst onto the scene as a hot new director who specialized in character-driven comedies. He followed up that movie with Juno and Up In The Air, the latter of which both received considerable Oscar attention, including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

The rest of his filmography hasn’t quite achieved the success level of his first three movies, and his last film, The Front Runner with Hugh Jackman, about former democratic senator Gary Hart, made just $3 million at the box office. So Reitman needed a hit in order to be commercially and critically relevant.

While it feels perfect that Jason Reitman is directing a sequel to his father’s classic film, the pairing of him and Ghostbusters is much more special than just birthright. Directing and co-writing, Reitman brings a sensibility missing in today’s blockbusters. His talent for making character-driven movies made Ghostbusters: Afterlife better than it should have been. With big-budget movies dominated by Marvel and Fast and the Furious entries, it’s refreshing to get one where you actually care about the characters and view them as real people, even if everything around them is fantastical.

The first blockbuster, Jaws, is a thrilling adventure, but one of the most interesting things about it is watching the characters go through the story’s trauma. Even Roland Emmerich created relatable characters for Independence Day that the audience could care about. Before CGI got so good (and honestly less expensive), filmmakers had to rely on other things to hook an audience, and big blockbusters used to be much better written. If you look at Jurassic Park vs Jurassic World, the difference in quality is vast. Jurassic Park actually has a 10-minute scene where the characters debate the ethics and morals of bringing dinosaurs back to life. The main character, Alan Grant, has a great arc in that in the first act he makes clear that he doesn’t want kids, yet he’s forced to “evolve” and be a caretaker for Hammond’s grandchildren when they’re lost in the park together. Jurassic World has no such character moments or arcs, and the real star of the movie is the excellent CGI dinosaur creations.

This is because filmmakers know now that audiences come for the special effects, so that’s what they focus on instead of the true craft of cinema. With great cinematography and production design, Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks like great care and attention went into making it – the same care that goes into smaller films where storytelling is paramount.

All Marvel movies today look and feel the same, as if they came off an assembly line and the decision where to put the camera is a manufacturing decision as opposed to an artistic one.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t even seem like a comedy at certain points. It feels like a family drama with comedic moments sprinkled in. In that way, it reminded me of the original Men In Black, which had a comedic tone, but played its sci-fi elements seriously and, like Jaws, relied heavily on the strength of its characters.

The original Ghostbusters was silly, but it wasn’t an all-out farce like the 2016 reboot. There was a nice balance of serious and silly moments, but in the era of sub-par and expensive special effects, it is more a showcase for its compelling characters and quality screenwriting. Watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it doesn’t feel like Reitman is making a movie meant to fulfill the needs of the audience or to set up a cinematic universe (though it does set up a sequel). It just feels like a story he wanted to tell that he felt was right.

While the ending may draw controversy for some “CGI trickery” that I won’t spoil here, it also won’t leave a dry eye in the house, and I can’t remember the last time I felt that emotionally involved with the characters in a big-budget blockbuster.

I truly hope that Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t the last time that story, characters, and craft are prioritized above special effects in a movie intended to be a blockbuster. Those three things haven’t been bringing people to the theater in recent years, but hopefully, with this film’s success, we’ll see more of such balance in the future.

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Not Much Enthusiasm For This ‘Curb’ Season Opener

It’s hard to believe that Curb Your Enthusiasm has been around for over twenty years. What’s especially great about its endurance is the fact that it feels like vestiges of a type of humor that isn’t done anymore. The comedy is blunt, irreverent, and even politically incorrect at times, which many shows and movies tend to shy away from these days. 

Having said that, Curb hasn’t been that good for a while. In fact, some might say the show peaked around the third or fourth season – back in 2004. While Curb hasn’t been as good as when it was this new risky HBO show, it still feels like that great comfort food audiences need. With Seinfeld still popular all around the world in reruns, Curb feels like it’s the closest thing to new episodes of that classic show, so while it may not be as good as before, viewers will probably always come back to see what new trouble Larry gets himself into.

Every Curb season has an arc that begins with a setup that will be tracked throughout the season, where it will finally get wrapped up in the season finale. Unlike the previous season opener where Larry uses a MAGA hat hilariously to his advantage, this season’s opener is pretty weak. It appears the arc of this season involves Larry producing a show based on his younger days called “Young Larry,” while trying to avoid responsibility for the death of what appears to be a burglar who broke into his home.

David finds himself extorted and forced to miscast a non-actor for a role in his new show. What’s interesting about this plot is that when he’s in the Netflix meeting to pitch the show, he’s surrounded by a very diverse cast of executives. Viewers will notice the network executives look different than what we’re used to, one is a young black male, a leg-less black woman in a wheelchair, and a non-gender-conforming female. I was expecting Larry to have out-of-touch conflicts with these characters, but he doesn’t. I wonder if this will come back, or if these casting decisions were made to make the show more diverse. The latter would be fine, as it does reflect the current Hollywood, but in previous years, this would be an obvious set-up for Larry’s anti-PC conflicts.

The other main plot of the season opener was Larry attending actor Albert Brooks’ funeral despite the fact that he’s not dead. The idea of someone planning their funeral while they’re alive seems like a situation rife with comedic potential for the usually socially explosive David, but it didn’t seem fully used to its advantage here.

However, Albert Brooks is a comedy legend and is a welcome inclusion to Curb. Interestingly, Brooks is the brother of the late Bob Einstein (Brooks’ real name is Albert Einstein) who played fan-favorite Marty Funkhouser for years on the show. Unfortunately, Brooks isn’t really given any funny material, and doesn’t even seem too thrilled to be on the show. Perhaps since Brooks is such a good writer, he doesn’t feel comfortable with the show’s improv nature. Even though I wasn’t thrilled with him in this episode, I do hope he returns. 

One of the show’s most interesting choices was to set this in a post-pandemic world. The episode has a running joke about “Covid Hoarders” who hoarded such things a Purell during the pandemic. So, in this world, the pandemic is already over and no one wears masks anymore. I sure wish we could speed up to that point in real life as we do in the show.

When I read Curb was going into production on another season during the pandemic, I wondered if it would be set during it, as a pandemic seems like the natural enemy of a germaphobe like Larry, and seeing him forced into quarantine and having to face all the changes we encountered in 2020 might have been funny. However, I could understand where trying to make humor out of such a tragic situation might be in poor taste, and so it’s probably for the best that the show swept the current situation under the rug.

Overall, it was one of Curb’s weaker, less funny openers. While still funny at times, the series hasn’t been consistently funny in years, and Larry’s character has seems to have changed from being the frustrated guy reacting to crazy people to being one himself. The show once tried to find the ridiculous in realistic situations, and it was even initially filmed documentary-style. However, the show is more cinematic now, which, stylistically, seems to match the unreality of many of the episodes’ premises. But does that mean I won’t continue watching the new season? Nope. Even though this Curb may not be as good as it once was, it’s better than no Larry David in your life at all.

Fun Fact: If you’re wondering the significance of why the show randomly ends with Larry and Albert watching an orchestra play the Curb theme song, it’s because it was composed by the conductor leading the orchestra – Luciano Michelini.

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‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ is the Horrible Mess That May Have Saved Hollywood

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is the follow-up to the 2018 hit film Venom, which was based on the famous Spider-Man villain. The first Venom wasn’t very good, and the sequel has many of the same problems and more. Like its predecessor, the movie hasn’t been received well by critics, but it made a ton of money in its opening weekend. This is a good thing. Theaters have needed a hit like Venom and as much as I hated it, I’m so glad it was a hit because frankly, cinema in general, needed it.

The past year has been rough on movie-going fans like me. Many cinemas were shut down for months last year and, unfortunately, many closed for good. I myself crossed state lines to be able to see Tenet. The idea of a darkened theater, surrounded by people, all having a shared experience is one of the things COVID destroyed. Since movie theaters have generally re-opened and studios have begun releasing movies again, it’s been slow at the box office. Many of the movies that had a planned theatrical release went straight to streaming last year, with more on the way. However, Venom’s $90 million opening shows that people still want to see movies in a theater and will go to a theater despite a pandemic. So, how did we get here? The idea of people not wanting to go to movies seems like that would never happen but, unfortunately, it’s been heading this way for a while. The pandemic just accelerated it.

Since the dawn of home media, movie watchers have enjoyed viewing movies in the comfort of their own homes. Along came HBO, and high-quality TV movies started to get produced. However, Hollywood was doing itself no favors. As home video, and later DVDs, were becoming popular, movie tickets were getting more expensive, so the cost of a family of four going to the movies (plus popcorn, candy, and soda) became astronomical. Audiences weren’t going to see Sinatra live. They were seeing the newest Adam Sandler movie in a sticky and butter scented theater.

After becoming prominent, streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon began producing their own content. This came at a time when Hollywood was making less risky content to ensure big box-office and really bank on those rising ticket prices. In doing so, mid-budget movies were not being produced, and nowadays studios make very few original mid-budget films. Many movies today are based on familiar properties like books, comic books, and true stories, with budgets ranging from very low to very high.

However, streaming sites make the kinds of movies that studios used to for theatrical release, and people watch them there because audiences would rather pay one price for a swath of risky content rather than pay one price for one. Because of this, we see more sequels and superhero movies released to theaters instead of original and potentially risky material. I don’t think any movie known as a classic was ever considered a “sure thing.” Prior to the pandemic, movie theaters were seeing record highs but the truth is that the average person only goes to the movies twice a year. If movie theaters are only banking on these big event movies, they’re in trouble. 

But back to Venom.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a 90-minute cash grab that barely has a plot. It’s too bad because Tom Hardy is a great actor, but his performance as Venom sounds like a drunk Bane and the relationship between him and Eddie Brock is cutesy and annoying when it should actually be kind of scary.

The film doesn’t contain any stakes at all (I reread the plot synopsis when I got home – nope – none), and it really feels like it was made because they knew by having fan favorites Venom and Carnage in one movie, it would make money, and despite a pandemic – it did. What’s sad is there are many truly people behind the film. Andy Serkis directed it, and one of the world’s greatest cinematographers, Robert Richardson, shot it (though it’s clearly his worst photographed film).

Not a scene of this film has any artistic value, and it feels like it was only made to showcase live-action Venom and Carnage, with a weak plot shoehorned in. Is this where we’ve gotten with film – these are the movies that need to be made to get people to come to movie theaters? In 2021, Venom is what you have to see if you want to go to the cathedral of world’s greatest artform. But honestly, why would anyone love two ugly CGI characters who look basically the same fighting? It’s mind-boggling. But you can’t argue with a $90 million weekend.

As mentioned, as much as I hated Venom, I’m glad it was a hit. We need to keep movie theaters open. Despite what people may feel (too expensive, have to drive there, have to get a babysitter, have to sit with other people) there is nothing like seeing a movie in a theater and experiencing a filmmaker beam their art into you, instead of watching it at home where distractions galore can take you away from the experience.

If movies like Venom keep movie theaters open — so be it, because if they’re open, that means there is a chance a great original movie will slip through the cracks and make its way to the big screen — where it’s meant to be seen.

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The Many Saints of Newark is Uninteresting, Uninspired, and Unnecessary

Rating: 1.5 out of 4.

For years, showrunner David Chase was reluctant to revisit the Sopranos universe. He insisted that there would be no big-screen followup or small-screen reprise season, and that the now infamous cut-to-black in the series finale would be the last we’d see of America’s favorite TV antiheroes.

Years later, rumors began swirling that a Sopranos movie was in the works, with Chase at the helm. Rather than an epilogue, however, this film would serve as a prequel to the iconic show, focusing on the early days of the DiMeo crime family in north Jersey and the origins of Tony Soprano.

And so the October 1st release of The Many Saints of Newark was an event over a decade in the making. Unfortunately, the finished product serves only to validate all of Chase’s reservations about attempting such a project, as the movie is a bland, boilerplate genre film with none of the mojo of its source material.

The problem begins with the writing. Whereas The Sopranos was equal parts dark comedy, family drama, and crime saga, Many Saints is a straightforward gangster movie that makes no attempt to transcend such a classification. Chase co-wrote the screenplay Lawrence Konner, who wrote a mere three episodes of the series, and whose slow and stilted dialogue is dull as dirt compared to that of the great Terrence Winter, who has dozens of credits associated with the original series.

Aside from weak writing, The Many Saints of Newark also suffers from its lack of a compelling protagonist.

Whereas The Sopranos boasted perhaps the most dynamic and spellbinding main character in television history in Tony Soprano, Many Saints revolves mostly around Dickie Moltisanti, father of Michael Imperioli’s Christopher. Unlike Tony, whose idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities, neuroses, and everyman sense of humor, make him relatable despite his severe flaws, Dickie comes off more as a nameless, faceless avatar for every generic minor mob character in every forgettable entry to this most storied genre. He has none of the compelling character traits that made Tony such a surprisingly likable lead character. As the main protagonist, he has none of Tony’s redeeming qualities, which makes him a bore to watch and impossible to root for.

Of course, there are certain Easter eggs littered throughout the film that fans of the series will appreciate. Some are more predictable than others, and so without spoiling any here, it suffices to say that none are particularly revelatory or clever. The most effective example comes towards the end of the film, and even that one is weakened by a rushed and ham-fisted final scene.

Finally, one of the things that made The Sopranos stand out from most famous mob movies and TV shows is that it took place in the present day, whereas most classic gangster films are period pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia. The Sopranos took place right here, right now, which made it much more immediate and relatable than its genre counterparts. Baked into the premise of Many Saints is that it must be a period piece, which gives the material an ‘under-glass’ quality that keeps its audience at arms length.

Given how iconic The Sopranos was (and still is, 14 years later), perhaps making a film that does the series justice was an impossible task. Those are giant shoes to fill, and The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t even come close.

Malignant is James Wan’s Worst Horror Film Yet

Rating: 2 out of 4.

Despite earning mixed to negative reviews upon its release, there’s no denying that Saw, James Wan’s 2004 indie debut, was a game changer in horror cinema. As if its grisly premise weren’t enough to shock and traumatize audiences, it should also be noted that at the time it came out, the kinds of horror films generating big box office numbers were meeker, milder PG-13 affairs. Whether they were American remakes of Japanese horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge, mediocre star vehicles like Godsend and What Lies Beneath, or higher quality efforts like Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others, it was clear that softer and gentler horror movies were en vogue at the time.

This made Saw all the more a landmark release. In an era when horror films were trending more and more benign (perhaps in the years immediately following 9/11, audiences were less inclined to seek out brutally violent content), out of nowhere came a grimy micro-budget gore fest about a man chained to a radiator and whose only hope of escape is to hack off his own foot. The film would birth not only its own billion dollar franchise, but a whole new sub-genre of horror films informally known as “torture porn.”

Ironically, however, director James Wan didn’t continue to churn out ultraviolent movies, but rather would go on to direct horror films more reliant on traditional genre elements. His follow-up to Saw, the underrated Dead Silence, involved the classic “possessed ventriloquist dummy” trope. He also directed the first two Insidious and The Conjuring installments, all of which were quite scary, but none particularly violent or bloody.

Wan’s latest effort, Malignant, attempts to combine the gratuitous violence of Saw with the more conventional horror elements that defined his subsequent films. In this way, it’s an interesting addition to his filmography. Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be said for it.

The premise of the film is somewhat unclear from the trailer and promotional materials, which is by design, as throughout most of the movie it’s difficult to tell if this is a possession story, a ghost story, a multiple personality story, or something else entirely. What we know from the outset is that Madison, a young woman played by Annabelle Wallis, is haunted by visions of brutal murders being perpetrated by a shadowy figure known as “Gabriel.” Whether Gabriel is her imaginary friend, a supernatural entity, or a long-lost family member, remains a mystery until the bonkers third act, when Malignant jumps the shark and becomes as much a broad comedy as anything else. By the time we know who and what he is, Gabriel becomes more reminiscent of the killer rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail than any of the horror genre’s numerous iconic slashers.

While not a good movie, Malignant is also not a boring movie. Wan is a terrific craftsman who can still build suspense as well as any horror director in the business. He often combines still shots, dolly shots, and handheld camerawork all in the same sequence to create maximum tension. His shot composition is such that we are made to agonize over what lurks just outside the edges of his 16:9 frame. In Malignant, these skills don’t go unnoticed, so much as they just don’t add up to anything all that memorable. Unlike Wan’s other horror films which all contain at least one standout sequence (the final moments of Saw, the nun scene in The Conjuring 2, and the first reveal of the demon in Insidious, to name a few), there’s no such set piece in his latest film that makes anywhere near the same impression.

And for all the online chatter about the ending, the major plot reveal which propels the film into its blood-soaked finale is so random and ridiculous that it can hardly be called a “twist.” In fact, aside from its absurd and downright comical third act, most of Malignant is actually quite predictable. We know when all the kills are going to take place, who the victims are going to be, and, more or less, how they’re going to go down.

While James Wan is talented enough as a director and has sufficient technical tricks up his sleeve to string the audience along for 111 minutes without losing our interest, in the end, Malignant‘s payoff isn’t remotely worth the investment. It’s easily Wan’s worst horror film to date.