Movie Review: Netflix's 'Malevolent' (2018)

Confession: As a prospective viewer, anytime the plot of a "supernatural" thriller involves the acknowledgment of psychics faking -- a movie has placed its first hook. For every “Conjuring” there should be a genre rebuttal for skeptics. Unfortunately, “Malevolent” is not it.

Set in Scotland yet centered on American-accented protagonists, the movie follows a pair of siblings. The brother/sister duo run a psychic business that provides closure to those who need it by claiming Angela has "the gift" to communicate with the dead.

While her brother, Jackson, thinks she is faking and so does she, Angela's psychic abilities eventually begin to manifest as a reality. Scared, she starts to back away from the business. As is often the case, this decision does not stick for long. So, when her brother ends up in a tight spot, she relents to do one last gig. As movie buffs know that is the one that always gets you and for the characters in “Malevolent” it is no different.

The rest of the movie presides with the genre norms while taking some disturbingly dark turns. After what feels like a pretty quiet first half, the film descends into a debauched madness that makes it next to impossible to keep watching.

The only thing that keeps that from happening is it being a first-time watch, which means optimism it will turn around has reason to exist. Word to the wise -- it does not get better. A hint comes when the circumstances of their latest case, is revealed.

From there on, the once-promising plot goes haywire. Making that all the more tragic is that “Malevolent” has tremendous talent in its midst and the story does not utilize them. Suffering from a blatant identity crisis, “Malevolent” cannot decide if it is a supernatural, psychological thriller or a gore-fest. Sadly, it opts for the latter as it progresses.

The bright spot for the second half is the siblings' relationship becoming the centerpiece of the story. As it should have been from the outset. Unfortunately, the moral implications of their business venture are ignored, and the characters end up falling into an ever-present horror trap. They make one incoherent decision after another to further certain plot points.

The movie's ray of light rests in the performances of Florence Pugh as Angela and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as her brother, Jackson. Pugh and Lloyd-Hughes strike up a believable sibling chemistry and play off each other with a sense of tremendous history. There is a depth to their characterizations that make it easy to believe in their sibling bond having existed before the cameras caught up with them. It is a rare quality, "Malevolent" would have been better served catering to, early on.

The much-buzzed-about Florence Pugh does great things with what she is given. While the script is restrictive, she manages to inject layers into Angela. That primarily shows when she breaks into a grin, happily shedding the drab persona she has to play most of the time.

As Angela's brother, Ben Lloyd-Hughes offers a charismatic turn. Like his co-star, Lloyd-Hughes leverages what he is provided script-wise for all its worth, and he succeeds. Had it utilized him more, the end result would have been enhanced exponentially.

Instead, the movie fixates on grotesque imagery and unsettling storylines to do its heavy lifting. A choice that does not leverage its characters in the best way. While it will fade with time, “Malevolent” is a movie-force you do not want to reckon with lightly.

Rating: 4/10

"Malevolent" is currently streaming on Netflix.

[Featured Image by Catalyst Global Media/ Sigma Films/ Thruline Entertainment/ Netflix]