Movie #215 2021: Malevolent (2018)

Sometimes, Netflix produce and/or distribute some real corkers. If I’ve learned anything about the streaming giant, it’s just to never expect much from them at all. And yet, Marriage Story, The Irishman, Uncut Gems and Roma stand out as some of the best films of the last decade, never mind simply being some of the best films on Netflix. Malevolent is yet another one of Netflix’s releases, so let’s see how it fares.

Released in 2018 and starring actress of the moment Florence Pugh, Malevolent is your standard horror creepfest. Set in Glasgow, it follows a brother and sister duo who fake paranormal encounters in order to make some quick cash. In short, they’re a pair of out-and-out con artists. When they visit the stately home of an elderly Scottish woman however, they get way more than they bargained for. Pugh’s Angela begins to see ghosts and hear unexplained noises within the house for real… and cue the scare-a-thon.

Malevolent movie review & film summary (2018) | Roger Ebert

Malevolent on the whole is a little dreary and a little slow… but hey ho, at least Florence Pugh is here! Hear me out here though: it’s actually not that bad.

So let’s begin with a positive. I was genuinely quite pleased with how nicely shot and well composed some of this was. The switch between found footage (by way of a character’s handheld camera) and standard camerawork is really well handled and a rather interesting stylistic choice that only adds to the ick factor. Some of the shots are really quite artsy and impressively framed – no complaints from me on the visual front, that’s for sure. 

Malevolent (2018) directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson • Reviews, film +  cast • Letterboxd

With the plot in mind now, unfortunately it just feels like an opportunity was wasted a little here. The concept of fake ghost hunters being caught out by a real malevolent (lol) presence is such a cool and original idea, but it’s barely explored at all. Instead, the focus shifts swiftly onto the more generic elements of horror; creepy children laughing, dark hallways, jump scares… the usual, over done stuff, y’know? In short, it becomes a waste of what could have been a really interesting premise. 

Thankfully, the leading performances really are worth some praise. Pugh carries the weight of this film on her shoulders, leaving viewers questioning her current popularity and success even less. British icon Celia Imrie – whilst boasting a somewhat dodgy Scottish accent at times – backs her up with aplomb, delivering a really expressive and nuanced performance using mostly her facial expressions alone. The rest of the cast though? Meh. Nothing noteworthy about a single one of them. 

Whilst the plot twist is quite good, the tonal shift in the third act is incredibly jarring – without revealing too much, it goes from zero to Hostel in 30 seconds flat. However, I don’t seem to have hated this as much as most did. Technically and from an acting standpoint, there’s a lot to like here. I just wish the plot and its script were more carefully crafted as a whole.

…did people just hate this because it’s nowhere near Midsommar levels?

Malevolent is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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