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John’s Horror Corner: Malevolent (2018), an unimpressively formulaic Netflix original about scam ghost hunters and a haunted house.

December 19, 2018

MY CALL: Yeah, sorry. This just isn’t good. It’s… a passable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. But it’s flat writing and unoriginality leaves it difficult to recommend. MOVIES LIKE Malevolent: For more (and better) films about skeptical paranormal investigators getting in over their heads, try The Last Exorcism (2010), Grave Encounters (2011), Grave Encounters 2 (2012) and Ghost Stories (2017).

Angela (Florence Pugh; The Falling, The Little Drummer Girl) and Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes; Tormented) lead a team of fake paranormal investigators that are long overdue for their comeuppance. Typically, a paranormal team’s arrival to their first site often serves as the ice breaker in these ghost hunter and haunted house movies as the film finds its personality—and thus introduces us to the tone. We’ve seen similar scenarios in Poltergeist (1982), Grave Encounters (2011), Paranormal Activity (2007), Demonic (2015) and Insidious (2011). Only here it packs no punch as a result of shallow characters and generally weak, color-by-numbers, over-expository writing. So, this film is not off to a promising start.

Much as in The Last Exorcism (2010) and Grave Encounters (2011), our skeptical investigators come to learn that one of their scams stumbles across some supernatural truth. I’m sorry to say that much like the writing, the execution of the horror imagery and scares also falls quite flat (for my taste and/or experience). As Angela “asks” the ghosts to “consider leaving the house” I’m awash with astonishment at the brazen idiocy of the character.

Shortly after Angela begins to suspect actual supernatural connections, they accept a job at an estate outside of Glasgow with an alleged haunted history. As soon as they enter house we are bombarded by predictably formulaic, uninspired events. I’m sorry to say that you’ve almost certainly seen everything here before, and you’ve seen it all done much better elsewhere. Yet, despite my buckets of criticism, this movie remains passably entertaining. But, to be clear, I’m recommending this to no one.

Director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson’s first feature length foray in horror is proficient as a movie, but very weak as a film. The only success is in the easy victory behind the creepy kids motif. Some of our ghosts are disheveled and disabled young children with their lips sewn shit, and that’ll work to some degree in any movie. Another workable aspect of the film is that it takes place in 1986, thus removing the conveniences of cell phones and the internet.

The team’s client Mrs. Green (Celia Imrie; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Highlander) is the only strong or interesting character. And the special effects, while not particularly demanding for this film, were just good enough to avoid earning scathing remarks. So, no recommendation from me. But you could really do worse.

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