It’s Week 2 of Spooktober, and we’re edging ever closer to Halloween, week by week.
This week, we’re looking at a horror movie starring Florence Pugh about a group of young adults who get more than what they bargained for when they accept an invitation to a strange place. Okay, no, it’s not that movie. It’s the OTHER Florence Pugh horror movie. The one from director Olaf de Fleur about a group of twenty-something “ghost hunters“ who are actually just scam artists feeding off of other’s need for closure in the face of grief and loss.
But then things get weird.
Let’s back up a second so I can introduce you to our ghost hunters. First there’s Angela (Pugh) and Jackson (Ben Llyod-Hughes), the masterminds behind this whole paranormal scam. Jackson does most of the chatting and negotiating with clients. Angela is the medium. People trust in them because their mother also claimed to see ghosts, and she actually ended up committing suicide because she went crazy from seeing people who weren’t there. Got it? Good. We also have Eliot (Scott Chambers) who’s their special effects/camera guy, and finally Beth (Georgina Bevan) who is just… Jackson’s girlfriend? I’m not sure what she does other than girlfriend around, to be completely honest.
And as far as character development, that’s about it. We get one scene of this group going out for drinks and dancing in which Angela and Jackson dance up on one another in a way that is uncomfortable to imagine two siblings doing. But other than that, it’s just straight into the spooks for this quick little 88 minute movie.
Anyhow, one night, the Scooby gang receive a phone call from a woman claiming her house is haunted, and we get the sense that Angela might not be faking her sixth sense because she has a bad feeling about this and quickly tells the woman they’re not taking any new customers. Jackson, on the other hand, seeing dollar signs, informs the woman that they actually can come out to her place and check on her ghost issues.
Dun dun dun. Ghost rule #1: When someone says their house is haunted, believe them. Ghost rule #2: If a medium (fake or unfake) is afraid, you better run. There are a lot of ghost rules.
So yeah. This is the type of movie I normally go for. I love a good ghost movie, even when it doesn’t end up being that scary, because ghosts are just my jam. I was also really impressed with Florence Pugh in Midsommar and was excited to see her in another scary movie. But at the end of the day, there wasn’t very much that was good about this movie.
I come from the school of critique sandwiches though, so in that spirit, let’s start off this review with the positives, transition right into negatives, and then end it on a positive note. Alright. Here we go.
Without getting spoilery, there were some interesting turns in this story. While I eventually got a sense for where the story was taking us, when the Scooby gang initially showed up at the haunted house, I had no idea what was going on with the ghosts and where they were going to go with the story. Apparently, this movie is based on a novel called Hush by Eva Konstantopoulos, I can see how the bones of this story are an interesting one that might translate better as a book. And the book does have a lot of good reviews, so it might be worth checking out.
However, in spite of its few interesting turns, this movie was extremely formulaic. As a fan of horror movies both good and bad, sometimes I can kick back and enjoy a horror movie that hits those familiar beats. But it also doesn’t stick in my mind at all. If I weren’t reviewing this movie for Spooktober, I would have likely forgotten it already. You might be wondering, “how can a movie be surprising and formulaic at the same time?” Well, I can’t say much without giving anything too big away, but let me just say the movie starts off as one sort of formulaic horror movie and then, to my surprise, turns out to be another kind of formulaic horror movie. You’ll see what I mean if you watch it, but also maybe don’t bother?
Another thing this movie does wrong that A LOT of horror movies do wrong is its treatment of exposition. I don’t know why, but horror movies, more than any other type of movie, are extremely guilty of using lazy expository dialogue to tell us what we need to know about characters. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because long establishing character-focused scenes aren’t scary. Maybe its because horror movie writers know that bad expository dialogue is a pet peeve of mine and they’re trying to drive me insane.
Seriously though, let’s stop having characters say things like, “You know things have never been the same since mom killed herself to silence the voices in her head.” People don’t talk like this. It’s lazy writing. And how can I be scared of your movie when I’m so focused on the bad writing?
And as much as this movie wants to skip character development to get right to the spooks, character development is necessary for me to care about what ends up happening to this group of friends later on in the movie. As it stands now, I’m not horrified by what happens to them, because who are these people? Beth and Eliot are especially underdeveloped. It’s not until pretty far into the movie that we the audience realize that Eliot has a crush on Angela. You can’t just have a character randomly say they like a character without having anything else in the movie there to back it up. It doesn’t endear us to him because his affections haven’t been substantiated by any actions.
Yeah, it’s frustrating.
On top of that, the ghosts aren’t very scary. They just look like normal kids with their mouths sewn shut. I think there needs to be more of the uncanny to make ghosts on screen truly horrifying. This effect is especially horrifying in children, probably because children are just naturally uncanny anyway. But these ghosts? They weren’t even ethereal. They were just there. As with many lazy horror movies, this is one that relies on its jump scares for a lot of the spooks rather than the ghosts themselves.
Now, I guess one could argue, taking into account the whole of this movie, that the ghosts are not what we should be afraid of. We’re all so worried about the ghosts that we forget that real live people are the ones who are actually the true menace. And yeah, that’s all very true, but assuming this movie thought any of that out is giving it far too much credit, to be frank.
Okay. Right. So let’s end on a compliment? With all of that being said, I was entertained for the entirety of this film, and at a slim 88 minutes this movie didn’t really have a lot of time to drag out. I appreciated the shorter run time. I think too many movies try to create gravity to their project by adding length. I blame Christopher Nolan for this. It needs to stop. Short movies can be (and are) just as powerful.
I rated Malevolent at 2.5/5 on Letterboxd. This film is currently available to stream on Netflix, so if you’re looking for a quick, mindless horror movie to throw on while you’re also doing other stuff, you got it right here.
See you next week for more spooks!